Activists Prevail in Court Over Toxic Loei Gold Mine

An episode of Thai PBS program ‘Citizen Reporters’ which aired Sept. 1, 2015, drew a defamation complaint against its broadcaster and reporter for story about a mine-poisoned community. Image: Thai PBS
An episode of Thai PBS program ‘Citizen Reporters’ which aired Sept. 1, 2015, drew a defamation complaint against its broadcaster and reporter for story about a mine-poisoned community. Image: Thai PBS

LOEI — Over a decade after alarms were raised about a gold mine firm’s poisoning of a community in northeastern Thailand, a court ruled Thursday that it polluted the environment and must clean it up, according to activists.

According to an online statement from the opposition movement, the Loei Provincial Court said Tungkum Ltd. is responsible for contaminating six communities with heavy metals in the Wang Saphung district and must therefore pay for their rehabilitation.

Tungkum was also ordered to compensate 149 villagers 104,000 baht each at a 7.5 percent interest rate since the lawsuit was launched in May 2016, the group said. Plaintiffs originally demanded the company pay 300,000 baht per household.

The company has not issued a statement on whether it will appeal the decision.

Although activists have pushed back against the mining operation since 2006, they only pursued a civil case last year after a court in 2016 dismissed one brought against them by the company. It had sought 50 million baht in damages after villagers hung a sign read “This community doesn’t want a gold mine.”

Tungkum has filed at least 19 criminal and civil lawsuits against the communities and activists since 2007. Several cases have been thrown out.

In April, the court acquitted seven female activists of coercion and other charges in a suit brought over protests held at a provincial government office, saying it was within their civil rights to express opinions about the mine.

In August, two activists were found guilty of coercion stemming from a clash in front of a government office during a 2016 hearing. They were given two years of parole and ordered to pay 24,000 baht to the plaintiffs.

The company also filed a defamation case against public broadcaster Thai PBS and its employees for broadcasting a program about a contaminated river linked to the gold mine operation. That case is being appealed by the mining firm after the Criminal Court dismissed the suit two years ago.

Not long after the gold mine began operating, the provincial administration began issuing warnings to local residents their water was contaminated by heavy metals, rat poison and cyanide. Several villagers reportedly became seriously ill and were found to have high level of toxins in their blood.

Activists and residents said they have been threatened and harassed for fighting for the community.

Related stories:

Court Acquits Northeastern Gold Mine Protesters

Court Dismisses Defamation Suit Against Thai PBS, Reporter