By CHULARAT SAENGPASSA
THE APPEALS Court yesterday upheld a guilty verdict and jail term against a land-rights activist over forest encroachment.
But in the eyes of many, Nittaya Muangklang is just a victim of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)’s Forest Reclamation Policy.
Nittaya, who has been strongly defending local people’s right to till land for their livelihoods, received a jail term of at least four months and a fine of Bt40,000 for encroaching on the Sai Thong National Park in Chaiyaphum province.
According to her, she has been growing cassava in this part of the province since even before the national park was established in 1992.
“The government should consider scrapping the Forest Reclamation Policy,” Chainarong Setthachua, a lecturer at Maha Sarakham University, said as he showed up in court to express moral support for the defendant.
He lamented the fact that authorities have been citing this policy to take harsh action against hundreds of people instead of promoting mutual co-existence.
“There are laws that can be invoked to help landless people such as those governing community-land title deeds and community forests,” Chainarong said.
The court of primary instance sentenced Nittaya to four months in jail and ordered her to pay a Bt40,000 fine in 2017. The defendant appealed the verdict and was granted temporary freedom during the appellate process.
However, since the Appeals Court upheld the verdict yesterday, Nittaya is now behind bars.
“I have to study relevant laws in detail before filing a bail request,” Somnuek Tumsupap, a legal adviser for the Land Reform Network, said yesterday.
Somnuek has been helping the defendants fight their case.
Nittaya, meanwhile, has said she will take her case to the Supreme Court. “I will fight for justice right till the end,” she said.
For years, Nittaya has been speaking up for people’s rights to land for livelihood and has submitted complaints to several agencies.
Her mother and two sisters have also been campaigning for the same causes and have landed in similar legal trouble. They are among the 14 sentenced to jail and ordered to pay a fine in a similar case. Their cases are in the appellate process.