8PM, 3 July 2013

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand
Penthouse, Maneeya Center
518/5 Ploenchit Road (connected to the BTS Skytrain Chitlom station)
Patumwan, Bangkok 10330

If you are a community or environmental activist who may be challenging powerful vested interests or the establishment – or very often both – in your country in this region, you face a challenge that could kill you.

We have just marked the 6 month anniversary of the disappearance of Sombath Somphone, and there is no new development in the case. Mr Sombath, the founder of the Lao NGO PADETC, disappeared in Vientiane on the evening of December 15, 2012, and has not been seen or heard from since. This despite the case drawing sustained international attention and pressure on the government of the Lao PDR.

In Lao, Cambodia as well as in Thailand, activists from grass roots environmentalists to prominent figures like Mr Sombath, face pressures and even danger.

April 2013 marked one year since Cambodian environmental activist Chut Wutty’s killing. 

The recent history of Thailand is full of murdered environmental activists. Prajob Nao-opas for instance, who in February this year was shot four times in broad daylight in Chacheongsao province, 20 miles east of Bangkok, after fighting illegal toxic waste disposal. 

These are just a few recent names of the murdered and disappeared in a list which, ominously, stretches into dozens and every year becomes longer.  

This panel discussion will examine the problems community activists face in the region, in terms of harassment and threats and even killings and enforced disappearances, when they speak up and try and fight major vested interests, or challenge the system. And it offers a window into issues in a region undergoing sweeping change as big business and infrastructure transform lives, and an unprecedented openness and global connectivity makes it more and more difficult to sweep unpleasant business under the carpet. 

Bringing their individual and collective experience to the panel will be

  • Srisuwan Janya, Thailand’s most prominent environmental lawyer, who famously in 2009, won a landmark judgement that ordered industries in Thailand’s Map Ta Phut industrial zone to stop polluting or stop work
  • Angkhana Neelapaijit, a committed activist against ‘’enforced disappearance’’ whose own husband Somchai Neelapaijit, a lawyer investigating the torture of detainees in southern Thailand, disappeared without trace in Bangkok on  March 12, 2004
  • Shalmali Guttal, a senior researcher at Focus on the Global South, who has lived in the Mekong region including Laos since 1991 and specializes in issues of community rights to land, water and resources.