Thailand: Thai Court sentenced Suphap Khamlae, Woman Human Rights Defender and wife of disappeared land rights defender Den Khamlae
July 31, 2017, 9:29 am

Today woman human rights defender (WHRD) Mrs. Suphap Khamlae, wife of prominent land rights defender Den Khamlae that disappeared on 16 April 2016, was found guilty of forest encroachment from the Phu Khiao Provincial Court, Chaiyaphum province, and sentenced by six months in prison. The 63 years old had just undergone surgery for ovarian cyst removal. The court found both Suphap and her disappeared husband guilty. The reading session of the 2011 forest encroachment case had been previously postponed five times due the disappearance of Den Khamlae. Other three defendants accused of the same charges were acquitted on 28 August 2012.

Mr. Den Khamlae, was a prominent 65-year-old land rights activist who was fighting for legal title to land his community occupied in Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary, when he went missing in in Chaiyaphum province 15 months ago. His wife believes that he is not alive anymore. On 9 May, the court issued an arrest warrant for Den Khamlae, as he did not appear in court and was considered a runaway suspect.

Today Suphap and Den Khamlae, in absentia, were both found guilty under the Forest Act and National Forest Act on encroaching into Phusam Phaknam National Reserve Forest. A skull was found in the forest earlier this year and raised suspicion that it might belong to the body of Den Khamlae. In June the court had postponed the reading of the judgment while waiting for the results of Forensic Institute
investigations to prove whether the skull and the other pieces of evidence found belonged to him or not. Today the guilty verdict was pronounced.

Suphap Khamlae is a long time resident of Khok Yao community in Kon San district, Chaiyaphum. She has been living there since 1968. The community is facing forced eviction from the land which they have occupied for almost fifty years. It is estimated that more than hundreds of people have already been evicted from nearby villagers, and fearing the same, human rights defenders (HRD) like Den Khamlae joined the Issan Land Reform Network to fight back and re-establish their rights over the land. They want to preserve the forest and their livelihood by opposing the Kon San Forest Project, which was established in 1978 by the Forest Industry Organization.

It is worth it noticing here that charges were brought against Den and Suphap Khamlae after the HRDs had reached an agreement with the government that allowed them to live on that land; the Cabinet was informed of the agreement on 11 February, 2011.

At the beginning of this week, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), in their Concluding Observations on the combined sixth and seventh periodic reports of Thailand, expressed serious concern that women human rights defenders advocating in particular for land rights, protection of the environment, and the rights of indigenous, rural, lesbian,
bisexual and transgender women and Muslim women in the Southern Border Provinces, have increasingly become targets of lawsuits, harassment, violence and intimidation by authorities and business enterprises due to their work.

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