Police charge soldier for fatal SHOOTING; Army said he had grenade
PRESSURE has mounted on the military to give a clear explanation on the extrajudicial killing of young Lahu activist Chaiyapoom Pasae, after police charged the soldier who fired the fatal bullet. Many ethnic activists and lawyers have called for justice.
Chaiyapoom, officially 21 years old but possibly 16 or 17, was shot dead on Friday in northwest Chiang Mai province. Military personnel claimed they shot in self-defence as the activist, whom they described as a drug dealer, was about to throw a hand grenade at them.
According to officials, troops who set up a checkpoint in the province’s Chiang Dao district found 2,800 methamphetamine tablets in a black car, of which Chaiyapoom was an occupant.
As they were about to arrest the activist and the car driver Phongsanai Saengtala, 19, Chaiyapoom got out of the car and ran away, according to the chief of Na Wai police station in Chonlathep Maithai district.
Three soldiers chased him, fired into the air first but then aimed at him as they saw the young man was about to throw the grenade, he said.
“He was shot in the left flank and the bullet remained in his body,” the police chief said, noting that police had no record of Chaiyapoom’s involvement in drug crimes. An autopsy was done at Nakhonping Hospital in Chiang Mai before a Christian funeral was held for the young man yesterday.
Police later interrogated and charged a soldier with intentional killing before transferring him to his unit at Pichit Preechakorn camp in Chiang Dao district.
People who knew Chaiyapoom said there was no reason to suspect that he was involved in illicit activities because he had campaigned against drug-use since his childhood.
He was awarded a prize at the 16th Thai Short Film and Video Festival for a short film called “Belt and Comb”, and several of his short documentaries were broadcast on Thai PBS. Chaiyapoom was also a gifted songwriter who composed ethnic folk songs about his community, they said.
The detained driver, Phongsanai, told activists who visited him over the weekend that he drove the car together with roommate Chaiyapoom on their regular route to Chiang Mai city after music activities at school in Chiang Dao. He had no idea about the narcotics, according to the activists.
Networks for indigenous people in Thailand have pledged to fight for justice in the young man’s death. “We have already appointed a lawyer for this case. We will fight to the end,” said Panachai Janta, a coordinator for health security for indigenous people in Thailand.
Meanwhile, the Army denied overreacting or using excessive force in the fatal shooting. “From the information we have received, he [Chaiyapoom] not only resisted officials’ operations but also tried to attack officials. The shooting was an act of self-defence,” Army spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvaree said yesterday.
Cross-Cultural Foundation chairman and a lawyer in the case, Surapong Kongchantuk, said that human rights campaigners in the area had been having conflicts with the military for a long time.
“Chaiyapoom was a young, dedicated activist who led the Lahu youth group to publicise the problems of his ethnic minority. I did not work directly with him, but I can see that he was a good young man and not the kind of person who would get involved with drugs,” Surapong said.
Although Chaiyapoom’s body was already buried, the lawyer would ask for any signs of physical injury revealed by the autopsy to be used as evidence in the case.
“We intend to find the truth about his death and we also ask the military to not interfere in the justice system,” Surapong said.
Earlier reports said people in Ban Kongpakping had a dispute with the military at one time.
Chaiyapoom’s guardian Maitree Chareonsuksakul was sued by the army for violating the Computer Crime Act, after Maitree uploaded a video of soldiers slapping local |people on the Internet. Maitree was acquitted of the charge at Chiang Mai Court last year.