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UPDATE – Dismayed by Acquittal of Sole Suspect in the Killing of Chai Bunthonglek

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(Geneva, 15 March 2016) – The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) is dismayed by the decision of the Wiang Sa Court in Surat Thani today to acquit the sole suspect in the killing of land rights activist Chai Bunthonglek. FORUM-ASIA believes that the investigation on which this decision was based was incomplete and dilatory. Chai’s family and lawyers will continue to seek justice. They are currently contemplating what their next step will be, including the possibility of appealing the decision.

“We are deeply concerned that the suspect was acquitted on all accounts. Today’s verdict sends a message to the families of the three other Southern Peasants Federation of Thailand (SPFT) members who were also murdered that the Thai authorities have failed to bring the perpetrators to justice”, says Evelyn Balais-Serrano, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA. Since 2014, four members of the SPFT including Chai have been assassinated. Somporn Pattaphum, Montha Chukaew, and Pranee Boonrat were shot dead, but the perpetrators have not yet been arrested.

“The failure to provide justice in the killing of Chai underscores the widespread culture of impunity in Thailand, and will only fuel it further”, says Balais-Serrano. “With an increasing trend of attacks and harassment against communities and defenders working on land and environmental rights, we strongly urge the Thai authorities to renew thorough investigations to ensure no perpetrators remain free and the rule of law is upheld, not just in the case of Chai, but for all those that have lost their lives in the pursuit of justice.”

FORUM-ASIA also reiterates its recent call to the Government of Thailand and all relevant government bodies to provide full and effective protection for human rights defenders and ensure remedies for those who have been physically attacked.