By Chularat Saengpassa,
The court reached the conclusion without taking into account recordings from a closed-circuit camera at the checkpoint.
Initially, there were widespread reports that video footage of the incident existed and that several military figures, including Army chief Chalermchai Sittisart, had already watched it.
Police also mentioned the footage in the first part of their investigation report. But after submitting the footage for verification, a forensic-science unit said the footage did not include what had happened at the time Chaiyapoom was shot.
“I cannot understand why the recordings were not examined during the court’s inquiry into Chaiyapoom’s death,” Sumitchai Hatthasan, Centre for Protection and Recovery of Local Community Rights’ lawyer who represents Chaiyapoom’s family, said after hearing the conclusion by the Chiang Mai Provincial Court.
Chaiyapoom was shot dead at a military checkpoint in Chiang Mai’s Chiang Dao district in March last year.
Following the shooting, soldiers manning the checkpoint claimed Chaiyapoom had illicit drugs in his possession and tried to resist officials. They said Chaiyapoom was about to harm soldiers, prompting one of them to fire at him.
Friends and family have refused to believe the claim, citing that Chaiyapoom was a young activist who worked for good causes and that some witnesses had told a completely different story.
Lahu Chiang Mai Group president and Chaiyapoom’s mentor, Maitree Chamroensuksakul, said yesterday he could not have imagined that the Chiang Mai Provincial Court would simply announce results that the public already knew.
“I am disappointed, frankly speaking. In fact, one year should have been long enough to nail down the culprit,” he commented.
He said he would consult the legal team further because he could not understand the court ruling.
Sumitchai explained that the Chiang Mai Provincial Court’s inquiry focused only on the circumstances that led to Chaiyapoom’s death because the findings from such an inquiry were considered final.
“The other parts of the incident, such as whether the soldier had fired in self-defence, remain debatable,” he said.
He explained that in the next step, the Chiang Mai Provincial Court would forward its findings to public prosecutors for further action.
“If the public prosecutors decide to pursue the case, it will go to a military court,” Sumitchai said.
Vice president of the Human Rights Lawyers Association, Ratsada Manuratsada, who has helped with Chaiyapoom’s case, said the slain teenager’s family still had the right to file a civil lawsuit for compensation.
Ratsada said Chaiyapoom was not the only victim killed at a military checkpoint and accused of drug trafficking and trying to harm officials in Chiang Mai.
“Abe sae Moo also faced the same fate,” he said.
Abe sae Moo was a Lisu man, who was accused of trying to hurl a hand grenade at officials to resist arrest in February 2017.
Ratsada said it was important that not just people but also officials help dig into the incidents and find out what exactly happened. “Or else, we may see many more extrajudicial killings,” he said.