A Thai appeals court has dismissed a lawsuit by the family of a teenage indigenous advocate shot dead in 2017 by two army officers in what activists say is yet another example of official impunity.
Chaiyaphum Pasae, a 17-year-old Lahu boy from Chiang Mai who had been campaigning for the rights of marginalized minority communities, was killed in March five years ago by soliders who stopped him at a checkpoint.
The officers later claimed the teenager had been smuggling a large quantity of amphetamine pills in his car and that they had shot him in self-defense because Chaiyaphum tried to throw a grenade at them.
Rights activists, however, accused the Thai military of engaging in extrajudicial murder. An eyewitness reported seeing Chaiyaphum dragged out of the car, beaten and shot through the chest at point-blank range by a soldier.
The teenager died by a gunshot wound to the chest from an M16 assault rifle, according to forensic examination.
In a ruling in 2018, Chiang Mai Provincial Court failed to say whether the officers had acted lawfully or whether the teenagers death constituted extrajudicial killing.
Controversially, the court dismissed a request by his family’s legal representative to examine CCTV footage of the incident as evidence. The footage, which has never been released, remains unavailable.
The army has said that the footage was damaged and so could not be produced, a statement disputed by activists and the lawyer of the late activist’s family.
Amnesty International and other rights groups have repeatedly called on the government “to immediately order an independent, impartial and effective investigation into the killing, and to protect witnesses, community members and family members from intimidation or harassment.”
In May 2019, Napoi Pasae, the late activist’s mother, filed a lawsuit in Chiang Mai seeking compensation for her son’s death from the military, but the Civil Court dismissed the case.
Napoi filed an appeal but the Appeals Court on Jan. 26 dismissed the cause, arguing that the officers had shot Chaiyaphum in self-defense.
Rights activists were angered by the decision.
“This is what justice looks like in Thailand. If you’re a powerless person, you will never get justice against a powerful institution like the military. It’s shameful,” a young democracy activist told UCA News, a Bangkok Herald partner, requesting anonymity as commenting on legal cases can incur contempt of court charges.
Rights activists have argued that Chaiyaphum was killed because of his activism.
The youngster was a prominent indigenous campaigner who advocated for the rights of the Lahu people, of whom 150,000 live in Thailand, primarily in the northern mountainous region where they work as subsistence farmers.
Many of the Lahu and other indigenous people are stateless, which means they often face discrimination.
Chaiyaphum was also an amateur filmmaker and musician whose work focused on the dispossession and marginalization of ethnic minority communities known as hill tribes.
Napoi said after the Appeal Court ruling to dismiss the case that she would not abandon the quest for justice for her son and would launch an appeal to the Supreme Court.