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Conviction for encroachment leaves villagers stupefied

Conviction for encroachment leaves villagers stupefied

TUESDAY, June 25, 2019
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Appeals court decision ‘not understandable’ as the area has been farmed well before national park was marked in 1992

THE COURT of Appeals yesterday upheld guilty verdicts and jail terms against most of the 14 villagers convicted for encroaching on the Saithong National Park in Chaiyaphum province. 
The conviction is something these villagers say they “can never understand” because their families have simply worked on farmland that their families have occupied even before the national park was set up in 1992.
Thongpan Muangklang, who was ruled guilty by the Court of Appeals, like Wanchai Arpornkaew and Samorn Somjit, burst into tears upon hearing the court’s decision.
As so did one of her daughters, Narissara Muangklang.
“My mum has now gone to jail. And it’s almost certain, judging by the current circumstances, that I will follow,” a tearful Narissara told The Nation. 
Narissara’s mother became the third member of the family to be jailed. Her two older sisters, Nittaya Muangklang and Supaporn Srisuk, are already behind bars following their conviction for encroachment by the Court of Appeals.
In addition to the imprisonment, her family members were also ordered to pay compensation to the Department of National Parks, Plant and Wildlife Conservation (DNP). 
Thongpan, for example, received an eight-month jail term and was ordered to pay Bt100,000 compensation. Wanchai got a six-month jail term and ordered to pay Bt860,395 compensation. 
Of the convicts, only Samorn has received a suspended jail term. But yesterday, the Court of Appeals increased the compensation amount he has to pay from Bt80,000 to Bt366,663.
“The courts have been lenient with Samorn because he has never been convicted of any crime before and he is very poor,” Thanomsak Rawadchai, the lawyer for the villagers, said.
Since May 15, the Court of Appeals has already handed down guilty verdicts against nine of 14 villagers who have been facing legal actions for encroaching on the Saithong National Park. 
Five other villagers will appear before the Court of Appeals by July 3, with little hope of escaping a jail sentence. 
Thanomsak believes there is still a chance to fight for these villagers by petitioning Supreme Court.
“It should be noted that the DNP did not arrest these villagers, while they were encroaching on the national park. They were not caught red-handed,” Thanomsak said. “Also, there should be clear guidelines as to how the compensation amount is calculated.” 
While a government-established joint panel passed a resolution to help people adversely affected by the National Council for Peace and Order’s forest-reclamation policy in 2018, the resolution could not help the 14 defendants represented by Thanomsak. 
“Their cases went to court before the resolution was passed,” he said. “But there is a possibility that other villagers accused of forest encroachment, whose cases have not yet reached the court, may be spared.”