Public Prosecutor Indicted Assailant for Attempted Murder of Dam Onmuang

Case sentence remains open and called for trial observation in June 2021

[Thailand] On 8 February 2021, Dan Onmuang attended the preliminary hearing at the Wiang Sa Provincial Court which examined the evidence in relation to his attempted assassination. The prosecutor indicted Somphon Chimruang, the defendant, of attempted murder and possession of weapons in public. The next hearing is set to take place on 29-30 June 2021 at the Surat Thani Provincial Court for the cross-examination of witnesses. Approximately 50 land rights defenders from the Southern Peasant’s Federation of Thailand (SPFT), their lawyers, as well as representatives from Protection International accompanied Mr Onmuang during this first hearing.

The public prosecutor in the Onmuang’s case indicted Somphon Chimruang with attempted murder and possession of firearms and ammunition in public spaces and without a permit. The police later found the weapon is registered under the name of a former military officer. It is worth noting that the defendant has served a previous prison sentence for separate murder attempt in November 2006, which he completed serving in January 2017. Attempted murder is punishable with a maximum of 15 years, and if the defendant pleaded guilty, the punishment would be two-thirds of the maximum sentence, which is approximately 10 years. However, since the defendant had committed this crime before, the punishment can be increased by one-third, making it 13 years in total if he confesses. Additional months can also be added to the sentence duration considering the fact that the firearm was improperly registered.

The UN demands protection for Dam Onmuang and accountability on his attempted murder

On 15 February 2021, Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, and Agnes Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, called on the Thai government to provide information about the concrete measures that have been taken, or are foreseen, to ensure the safety of Mr Onmuang and the Santi Pattana community. Their joint statement highlights the importance of Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, protecting the right to life, and directly addresses the United Palm Oil Industry Co (UPOIC), which is the corporation allegedly linked to the perpetrator of the attack. The UN Special Rapporteurs urged the company to provide information on the measures taken to identify, prevent, mitigate and remedy adverse human rights impacts of their operations, in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Concerns over Mr Onmuang’s safety persist as suspicions about the existence of other potential perpetrators grow

Mr Chimruang, the defense council in the assassination attempt of Mr Onmuang, is believed to have close ties with UPOIC. The Santi Pattana Community has been in a state of constant confrontation with UPOIC for years over a disputed plot of land. “I am worried about the person who was in the car with the accused, whom the police have not yet been able to identify,” expressed Mr Onmuang after the preliminary hearing, “Everyone who was there, even the accused himself, insisted that the incident had no personal motives. The attack is likely to come down to the land dispute,” he added.

Pranom Somwong, Protection International’s Representative in Thailand, also believes the land dispute is the trigger of the murder attempt. She expressed deep concerns over the safety of Mr Onmuang, the witnesses and the members of the Santi Pattana Community as a whole. She highlighted that four other members of the SPFT have been assassinated in the past ten years and the perpetrators are yet to be held accountable. “In those cases, the justice system, including the police and the prosecutor, failed. This is the culture of impunity at its finest. Dam’s case should be proof that justice can be served. The judicial system will have to demonstrate its willingness to punish the perpetrator,” said Ms Somwong.

“Even if the gunman has not been bailed out, I still feel insecure and I am afraid of going outside. I am losing daily income as I cannot go to work in the rubber field. I am under a lot of stress and unable to sleep, which is only worsening my health condition, psoriasis,” explained Mr Onmuang.

From Protection International, we call on the international community to closely monitor the development of this case to ensure that past mistakes are not repeated. All responsible actors in the attempted murder of Mr Onmuang must be held accountable.