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Death of ethnic human rights defender: Thailand’s Supreme Court accepts family’s case against army

Photo: Luke Duggleby/Redux
Photo: Maitre Chamroensuksakul, Chaiyaphum’s guardian, speaks to the media during a previous visit to Bangkok’s Supreme Court in 2019. Luke Duggleby/Redux

BANGKOK – Thailand’s Supreme Court on Monday accepted the petition for damages by the family of ethnic Lahu activist Chaiyaphum Pasae, who was shot dead by soldiers in 2017. 

The case dates back to 2019, when Napoi Pasae, mother of Chaiyaphum, lodged a lawsuit seeking compensation from the military under the Civil Liability of Officers Act B.E. 2539 (1996).

In the first instance, a court denied the claim to financial compensation by Chaiyaphum’s family. In January 2022, the Bangkok Appeal Court upheld the earlier ruling to dismiss the family claim for compensation stating the soldiers had acted in self-defence. 


Shot by soldiers at a checkpoint

On 17 March 2017, soldiers killed 17-year-old Chaiyaphum at the Ban Rin Luang checkpoint in Chiang Mai’s Chiang Dao district. The military claimed the soldiers acted in self-defence and accused the Lahu man of being a drug dealer. 

An autopsy later found a bullet had entered Chaiyaphum’s body through his left forearm, damaging the aorta, heart, and lungs. As a result, he died immediately.

A week later, the 3rd region army commander said in a press conference that the soldiers had found 2,800 methamphetamine pills in the air filter of Chaiyaphum’s car. They attempted to arrest him, but he escaped and tried to throw a grenade at the officers. One soldier had to fire a shot in response to defend himself, according to the military.

The military has not released any footage from CCTV cameras installed at the checkpoint to verify the account. 


Similar case

Almost exactly one month before the shooting of Chaiyaphum, an ethnic Lisu man named Abe Sae Mu was shot dead by soldiers just past the same checkpoint on 15 February 20167.

According to his brother, he had been on the way to the family’s farm. The military later said the Lisu man attacked the soldiers first, causing them to shoot back in self-defence. They also claimed that Abe carried two sachets of heroin in his shoulder bag. 

The mother of Abe joined the lawsuit of Chaiyaphum’s mother in 2019 asking for financial compensation for her son’s death. 

In March 2020, a court ordered the military to pay compensation of 824,180 baht (about 24,500 US dollars) plus interest to the family of Abe. 


For an insight into Chaiyaphum’s community, visit our photo-story by Thai photographer Jittrapon Kaicome here.