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  • Writer's pictureManushya Foundation

#SaveBangkloi: 🌱What happened to Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen?

Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen was a community advocate, member of the Karen ethnic group, and grandson of Phu Khoi, a spiritual leader for the Kaeng Krachan-based Karen forest community in Phetchaburi Province, Thailand. Billy’s work focused primarily on defending the Karen villagers against injustices imposed on them by the government, such as government officials’ threats and attempts to forcefully displace the villagers. Billy was one of those responsible for organising and filing a lawsuit for a 2011 case, where officials were actively trying to evict Karen people and destroy their homes. One of these officials was Chaiwat Limkit-Aksorn.

Back in July 2011, Phu Khoi, along with six villagers of the Phetchaburi Bangkloi Bon and Ban Jai Phaendin communities, filed a lawsuit against the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, accusing them of complicity in the destruction and burning of over 20 Karen families’ homes and properties. After almost 3 years of bureaucratic process, the Central Administrative Court was going to call on witnesses to provide information during the last week of May 2014; Billy was the main witness. However, on 17 April, 2014, a month before the appointment day, Billy disappeared.

The morning he disappeared, Billy had just left Pong Luek in Bangkloi village to go to Kaeng Krachan District. A witness allegedly saw Billy being arrested by a Kaeng Krachan park ranger at a checkpoint. The witness reported that they did not know where they took him next.

After investigations, it was revealed on 3 September 2019 by the Department of Special Investigation that human bones thought to have belonged to Billy were found near an oil tank, with evidence of burn marks and cracks on them. Officials announced that after running DNA Matching on the bones and Billy’s mother’s DNA, there was a match, providing them with substantial evidence that these bones were Billy’s. Nevertheless, the true cause of Billy’s death is yet to be determined.

On 11 November 2019, the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases approved the arrest warrants for four individuals charged with the murder of Billy. These included Chaiwat Limkit-Aksorn - one of the officials Billy and the Bangkloi villagers had been trying to hold accountable - and three others. The next day, the four surrendered themselves. Chaiwat was sentenced to three years in jail, charged with malfeasance (under Section 157 of the Thai Criminal Code) and failure to report Billy’s detention. The other three accused were acquitted. Overall, the court also claimed there was insufficient evidence to charge any of the accused with murder, or even confirm Billy’s death, in spite of the bone shard evidence.

As of today, it has been over nine years since Billy disappeared. Many, including both civil society and Billy’s close loved ones, are still awaiting and demanding justice. Billy’s wife, Pinnapa Prueksapan, was left feeling hopeless and frustrated after the verdict was announced.

The disappearance of Billy, the possibility that he was murdered, and the failure of the Thai criminal justice system to bring justice to the situation demonstrates the overall dysfunction of the system. Billy’s story brings to light concerns about the state of Indigenous rights in Thailand, corruption in the Thai bureaucracy, dysfunction within the Thai police and legal system, and the abuses that human rights defenders like Billy are forced to endure just for fighting for justice.

Manushya Foundation stands in solidarity with Billy, his loved ones, and the Bangkloi villagers. Whether Billy is still with us or not, he deserves justice, and his loved ones deserve reparations. In addition, we call upon our fellow members of civil societies to continue to pay attention to the issues faced by Indigenous peoples in Thailand at the hands of the political and commercial elite who put profit over people. They need our solidarity and attention in order to hold elites accountable and drive tangible change. Indigenous peoples are essential parts of our society; they deserve to live peaceful, happy lives without interference.



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