The Department of Special Investigation is set to charge four men with the murder of Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, a Christian ethnic-Karen activist who went missing in 2014.
The investigative body, which operates under the aegis of the Ministry of Justice independently of the Royal Thai Police, said it has gathered enough evidence to challenge an earlier decision by the Office of the Attorney-General to drop murder charges against the four suspects, who include Chaiwat Limlikhit-aksorn, former head of Kaeng Krachan National Park where the land-rights activist went missing.
“After receiving the decision from the prosecutors, we went through all the evidence, including eyewitness accounts, material evidence, forensic evidence, as well as comments from experts,” said DSI Director Korawat Panprapakorn. “We found that we can’t agree with the prosecutors’ decision.”
Porlajee was a prominent rights activist who had been calling for the rights of Karen people to their ancestral lands to be respected inside forests. He was last seen alive in the national park in Phetchaburi Province on April 17, 2014.
He disappeared shortly being arrested at a checkpoint by Chaiwat and three of his underlings who later said they had detained Porlajee for collecting wild honey illegally in a protected forest reserve.
The four claimed they had released Porlajee unharmed and were unsure of his whereabouts. Yet, last year, investigators discovered bone fragments inside a steel drum sunken in a reservoir of the national park that were found to be remains of the missing activist.
Chaiwat and the three other men allegedly killed the Karen activist and burned his remains in a steel drum in an effort to dispose of them.
The four park officials were charged last year with seven offenses involving Porlajee’s disappearance, including premeditated murder and concealing his body. However, the OAG soon dropped all serious charges against the suspects, citing insufficient evidence.
The original version of this story was first published by UCA News, a Bangkok Herald partner.