Thai court drops murder charges against forest officials over activist’s disappearance

Thai court drops murder charges against forest officials over activist’s disappearance
Pinnapha Phrueksapan (2-R), wife of ethnic Karen rights activist Pholachi 'Billy' Rakchongcharoen, leaves the venue after witnessing the verdict in the trial of the alleged murderers of her husband, at the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases in Bangkok, Thailand, 28 September 2023. A Thai court handed down a three year jail sentence to Chaiwat Limlikhitaksorn for dereliction of duty for not reporting the arrest of ethnic Karen rights activist Pholachi 'Billy Rakchongcharoen to the police, who went missing soon thereafter. Limlikhitaksorn's four accomplices were found not guilty. Limlikhitaksorn and his accomplices were on trial for the murder of Billy, in Kaeng Krachan district, Phetchaburi province, in 2014. EPA-EFE/NARONG SANGNAK

A Thai court dismissed on Thursday murder charges against four forestry officials over the 2014 disappearance of a prominent land rights activist, citing lack of evidence in a case that had prompted uproar among civil society groups.

In April 2014, rangers detained Pholachi “Billy” Rakchongcharoen in Kaeng Krachan National Park, southwest of the capital of Bangkok, but he never appeared at a police station for processing and has not been seen since.

He had been working to protect the rights of members of his ethnic Karen community who had been evicted from the park.

On Thursday, a Bangkok court sentenced National Parks chief Chaiwat Limlikit-aksorn to three years in jail for failing to properly charge Pholachi in 2014. But murder charges against Chaiwat and three other officials were dismissed.

In a statement, the court added that DNA tests of bone fragments discovered by investigators in a scorched oil drum dumped in the national park were not enough to prove the bones belonged to Pholachi, even though they matched a sample taken from Pholachi’s mother.

It also said there was not enough evidence to determine that he was murdered.

Chaiwat was granted bail and plans to appeal the sentence, domestic media said.

Reuters could not reach Chaiwat or his lawyer to seek comment.

Pholachi’s disappearance is one of more than 80 such instances of enforced disappearances in Thailand since 1980, rights groups says.

(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um, Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)



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