16 September 2014. Phuket, Thailand- Two community based Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) in Loei, Thailand, namely Mr. Surapan Rujichaiwat and Ms. Porntip   Hongchai, are now facing charges following a criminal defamation suit. Mr. Surapan Rujichaiwat and Ms. Porntip Hongchai are both members of the Khon Rak Ban Kerd (KRBK) community.

The KRBK group consists of villagers from 6 villages affected by the gold mining operations from the gold-mining company Tung Kha Limited Company (TKL). The KRBK group strives to protect the environment and to defend natural resources against exploitation by unethical investors who have no respect for the wellbeing of the local people and community, environment, public health and human rights.

Eleven organisations, including Protection International, have signed a joint statement demanding the TKL to immediately withdraw the lawsuits. Moreover, they call on the diplomatic community to, amongst other things, provide visible recognition of the work of the HRDs and to attend and observe, where appropriate, court trials of Mr. Surapan Rujichaiwat and Ms. Porntip Hongchai.

WHRD Porntip Hong

Please read their joint statement below.

Joint Statement – 15/9/2014

Thailand: Tungkum Limited (TKL) must drop the Defamation Case against two community based Human Right Defenders (HRDs) in Loei . Tungkum Limited (TKL) filed defamation suit in Phuket provincial court against Mr. Surapan Rujichaiwat and Ms. Porntip   Hongchai, two communities based Human Rights Defender (HRDs).

Mr. Surapan Rujichaiwat and Ms. Porntip   Hongchai received a court summons on Saturday 13 September 2014. Based on the court affidavit dated 15 August 2014, the company is accusing Mr. Surapan Rujichaiwat of damaging the reputation of the company by give interview to TV station TNN24 on 16-17th May 2014 and Ms. Porntip  Hongcha of damaging the reputation of the company in an interview on  Nation TV on 16th May 2014. The company demands that both defendant/s publish the judgment in 5 main daily newspapers in Thailand for 30 days and that the defendant/s be responsible for expenses.

We, the undersigned organisations call on Tungkum Limited (TKL) (the mining company) to immediately withdraw the defamation suit, which appears to have no other purpose than to silence critics by threat of financial ruin. Furthermore, the lawsuit may have the intention of trying to stifle freedom of speech and expression of other villagers and public advocates who would otherwise speak out against fundamental rights violation brought about by the gold mining operation.

Mr. Surapan Rujichaiwat and Ms. Porntip Hongchai are core persons in the committee of The Khon Rak Ban Koed Group (KRBK), a group of villagers from six villages including Nanongbong, who currently are struggling to protect the environment and natural resources of their village and for the survival of their community’s existing agricultural practices. The KRBK Group, in particular, protested the mining industry and the expansion of the Phuthapfa gold mine by Tungkum Limited (TKL) in the Loei province in North Eastern Thailand. 

The media interview highlighted the incident of 15 May 2014, when around 10.00 pm, a group of approximately 300 unidentified armed men wearing black uniforms entered the Nanongbong village.  They started beating up the villagers on guard duty. The villagers’ wrists and ankles were then bound. The armed men took about 40 villagers, half of whom women, as captives or ‘hostages’, including two key leaders of the community struggle against the mine. The ‘captives’ were then placed face down on the ground, while their hands and feet were bound.

The barriers that 
the villagers had constructed to block access to the mine were then destroyed, and about 13 trucks were seen transporting materials from the mine. The villagers were held captive for about seven hours and finally released at about 4.30 am. They reported being assaulted and threatened with guns, and some women victims said that their captors threatened to rape them as they lay there with hands and feet bound.  The violent attack caused injuries with several villagers, as well as loss of personal property. More than 20 villagers suffered
 injuries, of which at least 7 were severely injured and had to be hospitalized.  Many villagers also lost valuable property such as gold chains, and some villagers also were victim of property damage.

The criminal complaint filed by Tungkum Limited (TKL) (the Company) against Mr. Surapan Rujichaiwat and Ms. Porntip Hongchai constitutes an attack on their legitimate work as Human Rights Defenders (HRDs). It undermines the freedom of expression and speech. Both these HRDs are dedicated individuals, who work tirelessly to empower individuals and communities to enable them to claim their basic entitlements as human beings. Surapan and Porntip are both courageous and visionary in their work to promote and protect human rights. They have called for public and government attention and action on the impact of mining projects on the poor and disadvantaged, they have pushed for multinational corporations to be held morally and legally accountable when their actions or omissions deprive people of their basic human rights. It is against public interest for corporations to target and/or ‘go after’ Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) who highlight alleged human rights violations.

This company has already taken seven (7) criminal and civil cases against Mr.  Surapan Rujichaiwat, with total demands of more than 270 million baht plus 10 million baht per day since September 2013 (USD 8.3 Million plus 309,792 USD per day). Likewise, Ms. Porntip Hongchai has also been sued by this same company in one criminal and civil case, who charge her 70 million baht (USD 2.2 Million) for compensation.

The use of criminal and civil actions by corporations and/or governments to silence HRDs, and to deter others from continuing the struggle for human rights is wrong, and must be condemned. Such cases by corporations are attempts to divert the HRD’s attention from the human rights issue. They moreover afflict the HRDs with stress, loss of time and funds and also impact on the future struggle for human rights by community members or HRDs. As such the actions of Tungkum Limited (TKL) (the mining company) must be condemned.
Furthermore, both Mr. Surapan Rujichaiwat and Ms. Porntip   Hongchai are at high risks of being attacked, injured or even killed, especially since after Black 15 May Incident, where violence and torture was used against people struggling for their human rights.

Article 1 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, states clearly that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels.” Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states clearly that freedom of expression includes the right to impart information. The UN Human Rights Committee, which monitors state compliance with the ICCPR, has expressed its concern at the misuse of defamation laws to criminalize freedom of expression and has said that such laws should never be used when expression is made without malice and in the public interest. It is wrong for corporations to use criminal and civil actions against HRDs as a method of trying to avoid the resolution legitimate human rights concerns and issues.
The progress made in affirming and claiming economic, social and cultural rights is primarily the result of concrete struggles fought by individual communities to defend their livelihoods in the face of abusive action by government authorities, powerful industries or corrupt elites.

Therefore, we

1    Demand that Tungkum Limited (TKL) (the Company) immediately withdraw all lawsuits against Mr. Surapan Rujichaiwat and Ms. Porntip Hongcha.
2    Demand that Thai Army and the company engage in a serious and sincere dialogue with KRBK group, affected community and Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) to ensure adequate recognition and remediation of all violation of human rights and justice.
3    Call on to Thailand to take urgent steps to put in place effective measures to protect and promote community rights and ensure their livelihood been protected. National Parliament should enact laws, and even make Constitutional changes, to ensure the recognition and protection of economic, social and cultural rights. Whistleblowers, including Human Rights Defenders (HRDs), need to be accorded protection. There must be provision for reparation and compensation for victims of human rights violations.
4    Call on the Government to uphold the UN Declaration on the Right and responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms(known also as the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders), which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 9 Dec 1998.  In particular, we urge the Government to take all necessary measures to ensure the protection of these Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) from any violence, threats, retaliation, adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of their legitimate exercise of the rights and obligations as contained in this Declaration.

We call upon the diplomatic community to:

1.    Provide, where appropriate and with previous consultation with community based defenders, visible recognition of their work, through the use of appropriate publicity or invitations.

2.    Attend and observe, where appropriate, court trials of Mr. Surapan Rujichaiwat and Ms. Porntip   Hongchai.

3.    Communicate to the Foreign Affairs Ministry all information regarding cases of human rights violations of community based HRDs where companies and/or investors of your home country might be directly or indirectly involved.

4.    Make more accessible emergency financial support available to community based HRDs by simplifying application and reporting requirements and increase possibilities for smaller sub-grants for communities defending human rights and freedoms.

Signed By:
1.    Community Resources Centre
2.    Center for Community Information for Social Justice
3.    Conservation and Sustainable Development, Loei Civil Society
4.    E-san Human Rights and Peace Information Centre
5.    Network for Isaan Natural Resources and Environment
6.    NGOs Coordinating Committee, Northeastern Region
7.    Protection International
8.    The Udonthani Conservation Group
9.    The Rak Baan Haeng conservation group, Lampang
10.  The Khon Rak Ban Koed Group ,U-Mung, Loei
11.   The Phu Hin Lek Fai conservation group, Loei
An earlier joint statement by ten human rights organisations including Protection International called for action of international actors to adopt a more active role in this dispute.

For more information, please contact:
Protection International Protection Desk Thailand
thailand@protectioninternational.org

Find all news on Thailand on our websites protectioninternational.org including news on this dispute here and on protectionline.org here.