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HRW says Thailand must fully prosecute those responsible for killing of Karen activist

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Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Tuesday that Thai authorities should fully and fairly prosecute all those responsible for the 2014 murder of Karen activist Pholachi ‘Billy’ Rakchongcharoen, after the prosecution served four officials with indictments on Monday.

This Monday, August 15, Thailand’s prosecution has notified the justice ministry of its decision to formally indict four officials accused of abducting and murdering ‘Billy’ on charges of unlawful confinement, premeditated murder, and concealing the victim’s body, HRW has reported.

Billy was last seen in April 2014 in the custody of Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn, then director of Kaeng Krachan National Park in Phetchaburi province, and his staff. However, park workers claimed that they released him after questioning him and were unaware of his whereabouts. In 2019, his remains were found in the park.

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“The indictment of Chaiwat and other park officials is an important step toward justice for Billy and all those forcibly disappeared and killed by Thai government officials,” celebrated Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Pearson has criticized that the country’s officials have long obstructed justice for the activist “through cover-ups and exploitation of legal loopholes.” Thus, he has urged the authorities to right the wrong by “ensuring that the attorney general’s decision to indict four officials moves swiftly toward effective and fair prosecution.”

“Thai authorities should recognize that they cannot escape being held accountable for the most heinous crimes,” he has added.

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At the time of the disappearance, Pholachi was working with Karen — ethnic minority — communities on complaints against the park authorities for the destruction and burning of several houses and homes of families living inside the park.

Pholachi was arrested by national park authorities in 2014 for illegal possession of a wild bee hive. Park authorities claimed he was released after questioning but Pholachi’s family has maintained that he disappeared without a trace.

Pholachi’s disappearance is one of more than 80 enforced disappearances recorded in Thailand since 1980, according to estimates by human rights groups.

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