A report from the Sakon Nakhon Provincial Court
Thai Rung Ruang Co. agreed to a mediation with Nam Oon Conservation Group which protests against sugar cane mill

​Sakon Nakhon/ 22 May 2017 at 08.30am, more than 100 members of the Nam Oon Conservation Group, Phue Thai Sakong Conservation Network, In-Paeng Network, Rak Wanorn Group, the Archdiocese of Thare and Nonseng and general public from Sakon Nakhon have come to the Sakon Nakhon Provincial Court to show their solidarity to 20 members of Nam Oon Conservation Group who are there for a pretrial hearing. They are held liable by the Thai Rung Ruang Industry Co., owner of sugar care mill and biomass power plant in Sakon Nakhon. 20 members of the Nam Oon Conservation Group including Ms. Duanphen Sudchaiya who are villagers of Ban Kok Sa-ard, Tambon Oom Jan, Kusuman District, Sakon Nakhon have been sued after they had signed their names on a letter of petition submitted to the Chairperson of the Oom Jan Tambon Administration Organization on 11 November 2016 demanding a suspension of the preparation of land and construction of infrastructure for developing a sugar care mill and biomass power plant. They feel concerned about the impacts of the projects on public way and public water supplies and had thus submitted a letter of petition to protest against the project with the Chairperson of the Oom Jan TAO on 16 December 2016.

Reporters described how the Sakon Nakhon Provincial Court was thronged with members from various networks in Sakon Nakhon who have come group after group to offer roses and Zinnia flowers to show their solidarity to the accused. While waiting for the hearing in front of the courtroom, Mr. Thong Chaipanha, 69 years, defendant no. 16 felt so weak and passed out. It was scorching hot in front of the room and was so crowded with a number of people who were there to attend the court’s hearing. He was taken to Sakon Rak Hospital for treatment and observation, and was allowed to return home later.

​Around 10.50am, all concerned parties were called inside the courtroom. The prosecution attorney pleaded that the plaintiffs have yet to talk with the villagers and the 20 defendants regarding their opposition to the sugar care mill and biomass power plant owned by the plaintiffs’ company. He asked the court to have the hearing deferred to provide more time to build a mutual understanding with the villagers. Should they reach an agreement with the villagers, they would bring it to the attention of the Court in the next hearing. The proposal was not objected by the defendants and a mediation session shall take place at the mediation center of Sakon Nakhon Provincial Court on 1 June 2017. The Court agreed with the proposal and postponed the hearing o 6 July 2017 at 09.00am.

Mr. Boonthai Mangtha, defendant no. 4, said after leaving the courtroom that it was an informative experience for him to attend the court’s hearing. He has learned about his rights to express his opinions regarding large scale development projects including a sugar care mill and biomass power plant which are slated to be built together. He wants other people to have more access to the information and to review all relevant information prior to making any decision.

​”That we are required to attend the court’s mediation and then a pretrial hearing again means we have to come to the Court once a month in the next two months when it will get into rice farming season. Even though I and other villagers who mostly are rice farmers have to sacrifice our time, we would come again. I am glad to see lots of sisters and brothers from all over Sakon Nakhon who were here to show us their solidarity. We are determined to fight on to assert that the submission of letter of petition to the Chairperson of TAO asking them to monitor damage done to the reservoirs, ponds, Sai Kai canal, and public ways in the village is a right that can be exercised. The submission of a letter to a public office to protest against large scale plants to which we are opposed is a right to freedom of expression.”

Ms. Duanphen Sudchaiya, defendant no. 1 deems that “The plants are located just two kilometers from our community and only 300 meters from our paddy fields. First, they said they wanted to build a sugar mill with the capacity of 12,500 – 40,000 tons per day. And the biomass power plant to be built in the same area shall have the installed capacity of 48-114 megawatts. But after the expert committee of the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (ONEP) rejected their two EIA reports, the company said they wanted to reduce the scale of the sugar mills to merely 12,500 and the power plant to 48 megawatts and they were amending their EIA reports. Still, the sugar mill and power plant that scale are too large to be situated right by the fences of our houses. We are ready to fight against the projects and would fight through to the end.”

Mr. Theeraphan Phankhiri, the defendant attorney said that today the plaintiffs pleaded to have the pretrial conference postponed and the Court has set next month for a mediation session and the pretrial conference in the month after. “I have no concern about the prospect of the case. The villagers simply submitted a letter to a TAO which has the direct duties to protect natural resources. But if the case is really indicted, it would make it difficult for the villagers, as they need money for their bail applications and have to come to the court regularly. It has happened with villagers in other areas who got into a dispute with a private company which supports certain development projects and they have been held liable such as this. The plaintiffs have not much hope with regard to the result of their litigations. They simply want to create difficult predicament for the villagers exhausting them, wearing them down, and discouraging them from demanding any right. But from my observation, all the defendants believe in what they have been doing including the submission of the letter or peti5tion and they find their opposition to the project is a right thing to do and will continue doing that.”

It has been reported as well that yesterday, 21 May 2017, Mrs. Tuenjai Deetes, Chairperson of the Subcommittee on Community Rights and Natural Resources, the Office of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), has come to visit the 20 accused and other villagers from Nam Oon Conservation Group. The meeting took place at Ban Kok Sa-ard, Tambon Oom Jan, Kusuman District, Sakon Nakhon.
​”Being here today helps me see how Sakon Nakhon is an abundant province. Local villagers are exercising the rights prescribed for them in the Constitution including community right and the right to freedom of expression. I am here today to show my solidarity with them. They have caused no damage to the business sector. Their complaints must be reviewed thoroughly either by the NHRC and other concerned government agencies ” said the Chairperson of the Subcommittee on Community Rights and Natural Resources regarding the court case levied against members of the Nam Oon Conservation Group.

After meeting with the Nam Oon Conservation Group, she had gone to explore the construction sites of the sugar care mill and biomass power plant as well as an economic forest managed by local people in Ban Kok Sa-ard.