Bangkok, 28 October 2014- Defamation charges against community based human rights defenders who exposed alleged human rights abuses by Tungkum Company Limited (TKL) should be dropped immediately, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) said today.

The Order Announcement of Mr. Surapan Rujichaiwat will be held on 29 October at 13.30 pm in the Phuket Provincial Court to rule whether or not to proceed with the case. Meanwhile Ms. Porntip Hongchai is due to stand trial on 3 November 2014 in the same court. If convicted, they could face imprisonment for up to two years and a fine of 200,000 baht (approximately 6,150 USD).

Mr. Rujichaiwat and Ms. Hongchai of the Khon Rak Ban Kerd (KRBK) group had alleged that TKL was behind an incident of 15 May 2014 where unidentified armed men assaulted villagers, burned tents and huts in mining areas, and passed the blame on to the villagers. Sources of potable waters are now contaminated, they added . On 15 August 2014, TKL sued them for defamation claiming that their statements during the interviews had damaged the image of TKL.

“The cases of Mr. Rujichaiwat and Ms. Hongchai are emblematic examples of judicial harassment against human rights defenders who reveal and promote accountability for business-related human rights abuses,” said Evelyn Balais-Serrano, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA. “This tactic, using exorbitant defamation claims, aims to silence the critical voices of human rights defenders and has a chilling effect on their legitimate work.”

As human rights defenders Mr. Rujichaiwat and Ms. Hongchai have the right to speak out publicly about the actual and potential adverse impacts of the gold mining operation by the TKL and about their concern from it. Thailand is a party to both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and has the obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill the rights protected under both treaties, in particular the right to freedom of expression.

Furthermore, the regional human rights group asserted that the Court should review these cases in conformity with relevant international human rights standards including the United Nations Declaration on human rights defenders which provides for the support and protection of human rights defenders in the context of their work .

“The authorities of Thailand must guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders are able to carry out their human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment,” said Balais-Serrano. “While we recognize the primary responsibility of Thai government to provide  a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders, we would like to also remind the TKL of its responsibility to respect human rights and exercising due diligence to avoid complicity in abusing human rights in Thailand,” Balais-Serrano added.

Background:

The Khon Rak Ban Kerd Group was established in 2008 by a group of villagers of Nanhongbong and 5 other villages in Loei province, northeastern Thailand, with the aim of monitoring and inspecting the impact of the nearby Phuthapfa gold mining site on the community’s environment, health and livelihood. The group opposes the adverse impact of the mining operation and the expansion of the mine’s operational area.

On 15 May 2014, around 10 pm, a group of approximately 300 unidentified men, armed with metal sticks, knives and guns, entered Nanhongbong village. The armed men attacked and beat villagers at the road blockade checkpoint. Around 40 villagers including two key community leaders were held captive for about 6.5 hours and released at 4.30 am. They were reportedly assaulted and threatened with guns. Over 40 villagers were allegedly injured in the assault and were only transported to hospital after the perpetrators had left the scene.

About FORUM-ASIA:

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) is a regional human rights group with 47 member organisations in 16 countries across Asia. With offices in Bangkok, Jakarta and Geneva, FORUM-ASIA addresses key areas of human rights violations in the region, including freedoms of expression, assembly and association, human rights defenders, and democratisation.

For inquiries, please contact:

• Evelyn Balais-Serrano, Executive Director, FORUM-ASIA, evelyn@forum-asia.org, +66922627971.
• Sejin Kim, Human Rights Defenders Programme Associate, FORUM-ASIA, sejin@forum-asia.org, +66926347034.