By Chularat Saengpassa
THE APPEALS Court upheld a lower court’s verdict yesterday and sentenced a 61-year-old woman to five months and 10 days in jail for encroaching on Sai Thong National Park in Chaiyaphum province.
Srinuan Pasang has also been ordered to pay Bt150,000 (plus 7.5 per cent annual interest) to the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation and to vacate the land.
Somnuek Tumsupap, a legal adviser for the Land Reform Network, said his team will not post bail for Srinuan as the charge does not carry a long prison term. The elderly woman, who suffers chronic ailments, was put behind bars yesterday.
The park officials – acting in line with the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)’s Forest Reclamation Policy – have alleged that Srinuan’s tapioca plantation in Tambon Huai Yae of Nong Bua Rawe district encroaches on the park’s forest area by more than six rai (0.96 hectares).
In July 2018, the lower court convicted Srinuan despite her argument that she had inherited the land for farming before the national park was created. She also called on state agencies to survey her land and clearly demarcate the limits of the national park.
She said she had moved to the land with her husband in 1985 and that forest officials had given her approval to use the land – which her husband’s family had long occupied – as per a Cabinet resolution in 1998. She said she had farmed the land so her four children could complete their secondary education. She also noted that in 2014-2015, she had signed a document giving up the 3 rai to the authorities, but when they showed up again to reclaim the remaining 24 rai, she had refused to sign. She was arrested while ploughing the land.
“If I am to be jailed, so be it. We still need to make a living, as we have no other place,” she said.
Srinuan was among the 14 villagers prosecuted and sentenced to jail terms ranging from four months to four years in 19 cases related to encroachment into Sai Thong National Park. Somnuek said several defendants faced two cases each, adding that six more villagers will hear their Appeals Court verdicts later this month.
The lawyer expects the Appeals Court to uphold the lower court verdicts for the rest of the defendants, as was the case for Srinuan and land-rights activist Nittaya Muangklang.
Early last month, the Appeals Court sentenced Nittaya to four months in jail and Bt40,000 in fines for encroaching on Sai Thong National Park. She is slated to hear the Appeals Court verdict on a second lawsuit today. Somnuek said his team will take Nittaya’s case to the Supreme Court before the deadline for an appeal against the Appeals Court verdict for her will expire on June 14, by emphasising that the villagers had lived on and used the land before the NCPO implemented its Forest Reclamation Policy.