By Chularat Saengpassa
A fourth defendant would be released as soon as his bail money was paid, said his lawyer, Somnuek Tumsupap, of the Land Reform Network, on Monday.
The prisoner’s release followed successful bail applications to the Appeals Court last Friday for three women - Pattama Komed, Supaporn Srisuk and Seenuan Pasang - and one man Put Sukbongkot, whose bails were set at Bt500,000, Bt180,000, Bt180,000 and Bt200,000 respectively.
“The three women were bailed out by money from the Justice Fund and the fund committee is still considering bail aid to Put, whose relatives have been informed and understood the process that Put should also be out soon,” said Somnuek, adding that his team would soon be preparing bail applications for nine of the remaining 10 convicted villagers. The tenth received only a suspended prison sentence.
“It’s good news and boosts the villagers’ morale as they will be out of jail while awaiting the Supreme Court’s rulings,” the lawyer added.
Somnuek said the Supreme Court had already granted permission for villager Nittaya Muangklang to further appeal her case that led to a four-month prison sentence. However, he said the Supreme Court had not yet ruled on whether Nittaya could also appeal her eight-month jail term over a second conviction for encroachment.
The law stipulates that a defendant who received the Appeals Court sentencing and wished to continue fighting the allegation on the Supreme Court level must obtain a Supreme Court’s permission to petition first then the defense lawyer could apply for the defendant’s bail release. If the Supreme Court saw no significance nor impact to society of the case, the Supreme Court may dismiss the request resulting in the case being finalized as per whatever the sentences given by the Appeals Court.
A total of 14 villagers – there were 19 lawsuits in total because some defendants faced two - were found guilty at Chaiyaphum Court for encroaching the Saithong National Park and their sentences were upheld by the Appeals Court in various hearings between May and July. All were jailed except one, Samorn Somjit, who was found to be very poor and thus received a suspended one-year jail term. Each of the convicted villagers were also ordered to pay hefty compensation to the national park.
The villagers claim they were jailed merely for farming on land they had farmed on for generations because the lands were now deemed to encroach upon Saithong National Park, which was only established in 1992 and spans more than 199,375 rai (31,900 hectares).