Thailand: May ‘love last forever’: a talk with the love of a missing Karen activist

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    Pinnapa “Munor” Prueksapan (Photo from Benar News)

    “It cannot be explained with words. When I was sick, he was a doctor taking care of me. When I was hungry, he was a cook for me. He is my husband, my friend and my teacher. I don’t know how to express it,” said Munor, the wife of Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, a missing Karen activist.

    It has been three years since Billy disappeared from Kaeng Krachan National Park in western Phetchaburi Province. He was last seen being arrested on 17 April 2014 by Chaiwat Limlikitaksorn, the former superintendent of Kaeng Krachan National Park, and four other park officers. Until now, Chaiwat has never been prosecuted. In fact, he has been promoted and continues his life as normal.

    Billy is a victim of Thailand’s lack of any law against enforced disappearance. Under the existing laws, victims’ families cannot initiate a prosecution unless they have evidence that the victim is dead, or in a condition that he or she cannot file a charge by themselves.

    All they can do is to file a missing person report to the police, which is equal to hopelessly waiting for their loved ones to come back. In the worst case, when state authorities are involved, the chance of finding the perpetrators is nearly impossible.

    In May 2016, the junta’s cabinet approved a draft bill against torture and enforced disappearance. In November, however, the junta’s National Legislative Assembly (NLA) rejected the draft at the very first reading, because there was never any public hearing of the draft. In fact, representatives from civil society and academics did participate in the drafting process, just as with other laws drafted under the junta.

    Due to the lack of a law, human rights defenders in Thailand face the risk of enforced disappearance. For instance, Somchai Neelapaijit, a human rights lawyer, disappeared since 2004. Den Kamlae, a land rights defender in the Northeastern province of Chaiyaphum, disappeared in 2016. In both cases, no one has ever been punished and the bodies of the two have never been found.

    Like these two, Billy was a community rights defender who was helping Karen villagers to file a lawsuit against Chaiwat for ordering the eviction and burning of their village in May 2011. Before he went missing, Billy played a significant role in connecting the village to the outside world. He told society about the hardships of his people through public forums, legal prosecutions, cultural activities and short films.

    One of Billy’s main missions was to bring Ko-i Meemi, the 106-year-old Karen’s spiritual leader, back to his home, currently in a protected area of Kaeng Krachan National Park

    His disappearance has brought fear and silence to the village of Ban Bangkloi since no one wants to be the next victim. The only woman to take a stand is Billy’s wife, Pinnapa “Munor” Prueksapan. In August 2015, she petitioned the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), to put her husband’s case into special investigation. However, the DSI rejected the petition in January 2017, saying that Numor cannot be a plaintiff of the case as she had not legally married Billy.

    To commemorate the third anniversary of Billy’s disappearance, Prachatai talked to Munor, not as a justice fighter, but as a woman who lost her “everything”. This love story might be why Billy’s surname is Rakchongcharoen (love lasting forever).

    Munor remembers the date 26 December 2002, the day she first met Billy at a Christmas party. She was then a grade 9 student. Her brother introduced Billy to her, saying that he was a good guy and well educated. At that time, he did not interest her at all.

    Her brother later went to work outside the village and had to stay at Billy’s place. He asked Numor to call him once in a while to ease his homesickness. But when Munor called his brother, Billy always picked up the phone and said that his brother was not home.

    They start their friendship through cell phone of Munor’s brother. One day, Munor heard that Billy just broke up with a girl so she jokingly said “I heard that you’re just heartbroken. Do you want me to fix it?” Billy was stunned for a second before both agreed to be in a relation. She admitted that her brother was a really good matchmaker.

    A year after their relation began, the two married and Billy moved into Munor’s house in Pa Deng village but still worked as a member of the Subdistrict Administrative Organization in his hometown. Munor said Billy liked to make necklaces and key rings from a metal bent into heart shapes and put his picture on one side and hers on the other. Asked what Billy means to her, Munor simply said “He’s everything.”

    “It cannot be explained with words. When I was sick, he was a doctor taking care of me. When I was hungry, he was a cook for me. He is my husband, my friend and my teacher. I don’t know how to express it,” Munor said nostalgically. “When I lerned he was missing, I was extremely sad. If I had no children, I might follow him. But I have to stay for my children. Without me, no one will take care of them.”

    Not only was he a good husband for Munor, Billy was also a good father for their five children. Munor recalled that every day after work, Billy bought some chickens and sausages and cooked for his children. On weekends, he took his children to a river and they collected shellfish together. When they came back home, Billy would cook spicy shellfish. She said that if someone asks her children what they miss most about their father, their answer is their father’s dishes.

    As well as the first day, Munor clearly remembers the last day she saw Billy. On 15 April 201, Billy prepared his stuff to go to work as usual. He went out with a green backpack and a small pocket. Inside, there were two Buddhist necklaces, two cell phones and one camera. He also asked Munor to give him 2,000 baht because he wanted to buy forest seeds and sell them in the city. He rode his motorcycle – a green-black-yellow Honda, plate licence Khor Ngor Phor 988 Phetchaburi Province — and never come back.

    Munor was informed about Billy’s arrest on 18 April. At first, she thought it was just a brief detention. But when it was clear that Billy had disappeared, she was heartbroken but she easily recovered since it was something she had prepared in her mind long before.

    Since Billy started his campaign to prosecute the park officials, he had faced repeated intimidation from them. He once told Munor that if he disappeared, not to try to find him because it would only bring her danger. Even people surrounding her warned her to stop the fight for Billy’s justice as they do not want her to be another to disappear.

    “Many people told me to stop and stay away from [park officials]. I could be killed. Some said if I wasn’t a woman, they might have killed me. But I will keep doing it. Do everything the law allows me to do until the lawsuit ends.”

    Monor added that the DSI recently sent its staff to talk to Billy’s mother, saying that if she is the plaintiff, it will be more beneficial to the lawsuit as she is a direct relative of the victim. This is a small hope for Munor that justice for Billy will come some day, though the entire process has to restart.

    Munor petitioning the DSI (Photo from BBC Thai)

    Source: Prachatai