BANGKOK — An international human rights group urged Thai authorities on Monday to investigate the disappearance of a prominent environmental activist.
Por Cha Lee Rakcharoen, known as “Billy,” was detained in Petchaburi province’s Kaengkrachan National Park, located on the border of southern Burma’s Tenasserim Division, on Thursday for carrying illegal wild honey and has not been seen since shortly after he was released.
He was en route at the time to meet ethnic Karen villagers and activists in preparation for an upcoming lawsuit that accuses park officials of burning and destroying the homes and property of more than 20 families in the area.
“National parks should be a place to enjoy natural beauty and serene vistas, not a place for officials to abuse people,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “So long as Billy’s whereabouts are unknown, a sense of fear will stalk the park communities demanding their rights.”
Park chief Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn said that the activist was released because the illegal honey he was allegedly carrying was deemed a petty offence. A witness contacted by The Associated Press, Issara Seuksahet, confirmed Billy was freed and was last seen Thursday riding a yellow motorcycle in the rain.
Police Col. Woradet Suanklaai said that a missing person complaint has been filed but Billy’s whereabouts remained unknown.
Human Rights Watch said that Chaiwat himself was under investigation for allegedly masterminding the killing of an activist from Billy’s network in 2011, who had helped ethnic Karen villagers report on abuses, violence, illegal logging, and poaching allegedly committed by park officials.
Chaiwat has not been suspended from duty as required under disciplinary regulations regarding officials under criminal investigation, Human Rights Watch said. “Chaiwat’s presence at the national park has been a cause of fear among local activists and villagers, particularly those involved in lawsuits against him,” it added.
National Human Rights Commissioner Niran Pitakwachara also called on authorities to find the activist.
“Billy is not an ordinary villager who simply went missing. He is a key Karen activist who is fighting in a case in the Administrative Court, and it’s the job of the government and the administrative officials to find out where he might be, whether he is being tortured or even killed,” Niran said.