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Thai court drops murder charges against officials over vanished activist

Pinnapa Preuksapan, wife of Karen activist Porlajee Rakchongcharoen, reacts as her lawyers give a statement to the press. (AFP pic)

BANGKOK: A Thai court on Thursday dropped murder charges against four national park officials over the disappearance of an activist almost a decade ago, but jailed one on a lesser offence.

It was the latest twist in a long-running legal saga after ethnic Karen leader Porlajee Rakchongcharoen, better known by his nickname Billy, went missing in 2014 while working on a lawsuit alleging officials had destroyed homes in Kaeng Krachan national park.

The investigation centred around then-park chief Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn, who was the last person to see Billy alive, and who was indicted for murder last year following an outcry after charges were first dropped in 2020.

But on Thursday the Central Criminal Court for Corruption declined to prosecute any of the officials for murder, acquitting three outright and sentencing Chaiwat to three years in prison for malfeasance.

The court said there was not enough evidence to continue with the murder charges.

Following the verdict, lawyer Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, who represents Billy’s family, said they would appeal.

“Whether he is dead or alive, forced disappearance is a breach of basic human rights,” she told reporters outside court.

“This has a total impact on Billy’s relatives and family.”