A LAHU boy who appeared to have beaten every bad deal in his life – from a broken family to the lack of citizenship – has become yet another victim of the brutal justice system in the far North.
The death of Chaiyapoom Pasae on Friday has saddened everyone who knew him. None of his close friends believes the Army’s claim that soldiers manning the checkpoint killed Chaiyapoom because he was involved in drug dealing or other illicit activity.
“We were shocked that he was killed,” Panachai Janta, a coordinator for health security for indigenous people in Thailand, said.
His group and its allies have vowed to fight for justice for their friend.
Maitree Chamroensuksakul, chair of the Lahu Conservation Group in Chiang Mai province, spoke yesterday just before he joined local people and teachers who buried Chaiyapoom’s body in his hometown in line with Lahu traditions.
“He had been under my care, living under my roof, for more than 10 years,” Maitree said. “Not only had I never seen him abuse drugs, but I had also seen him wage several campaigns against narcotic substances.”
Local residents remember how Chaiyapoom worked hard outside class hours to support his family in Chiang Dao district.
“He was a breadwinner. His father left him when he was still very young. His mother is too ill to work. His stepfather had psychiatric conditions and needed treatment,” Maitree said.
He said that although Chaiyapoom was registered as 21 years old on his official documents, his real age was estimated to be just 17 or 18.
Because of overcrowding at his small house, Chaiyapoom had moved into Maitree’s home in the same neighbourhood, where he had lived until last month.
“He just moved out because my younger brother built a new house and could bring along some kids,” Maitree said.
Chaiyapoom was a good boy, he said, someone willing to work hard to support his family who was also keen to make the world a better place to live in.
A Mathayom 4 student at the Chiang Dao Wittayakhom School, Chaiyapoom had been a young activist for a good cause.
With a skill for music, he had promoted Lahu people’s pride in their cultural roots and public understanding in Lahu in the hope of removing the widespread portrayals of Lahu people as drug-engaged hilltribe folk. Indeed, he chaired the Indigenous Role-Model Youth Network.
But after beating several odds to make meaningful contributions to the society he lived in, Chaiyapoom succumbed to an extrajudicial killing that soldiers linked to a drug-related operation.
Panachai argued that Chaiyapoom simply went past the checkpoint manned by soldiers that day because he had to do some activities with his schoolmate who was also in the school’s musical band.