Chaiyaphum Pa-sae, 17, was shot dead on 17 March, 2017 after soldiers apprehended him during an “anti-drug operation” in Chiang Dao district of Thailand’s northern Chiang Mai province. However, there are many questions to be asked about this killing as, according to Human Rights Watch, “Abusive officials have long used anti-drug operations to cover their attacks on activists who exposed official wrongdoing or defended minority rights.”
Chaiyaphum was a well-known activist from the Young Seedlings Network Camp in Chiang Dao district. He was involved in numerous campaigns to promote the rights of ethnic Lahu and other vulnerable ethnic minorities in northern Thailand, helping them to gain citizenship, health care, and access to education. He also spoke out against abuses by Thai security forces against his community during anti-drug operations.
On 15 March, he was among 19 youth representatives of ethnic minorities who attended a youth activist forum organised by the National Institute for Child and Family Development in Bangkok. Chaiyaphum was also a musician and documentary film maker and was awarded a prize at the 16th Thai Short Film and Video Festival for a short film called ‘Belt and Comb’. Several of his short documentaries were broadcast on Thai PBS.
According to the account of the soldiers at the checkpoint, they stopped the black Honda Jazz sedan which was being driven by 19 year old Pongsanai Saengtala. Chaiyaphum was a passenger in the car. The two young men stepped out of the car and, allegedly, there was an argument between them and the military officials. Later Chaiyaphum was found dead from a gunshot wound close to the military checkpoint. The soldiers said that Chaiyaphum escaped from the soldiers, pulled a knife out of the car’s trunk, fought his way past them, and ran into the nearby jungle. Soldiers claimed that they pursued him and when Chaiyaphum was about to throw a hand grenade at them, shot him in self-defense. They have not explained how a detained person obtained the knife or grenade.
Another killing in remarkably similar circumstances took place on 15 February 2017 when 32 year old Abe Moo was also the victim of an extrajudicial killing, committed by military officials under the command of the 2nd Company of the 1st Operation Command, the Taskforce of the Fifth Cavalry Regiment, King’s Guard. The authorities presented the same reasons and circumstances to justify their action, claiming that the soldiers had been conducting a search for drugs and had found drugs in the possession of Abe Moo. They also claimed that Abe Moo attempted to escape and was shot dead as he was preparing to hurl a grenade at the officials.
The soldier responsible for killing Chaiyaphum Pa-sae has been arrested and charged with murder.