BANGKOK (AFP) - A Thai court on Tuesday (May 31) jailed two military men for orchestrating an attack on villagers who were blockading a gold mine, a lawyer said, a rare ruling in favour of such activists.
Residents of Nanonbong in the northeastern province of Loei have waged a decade-long struggle against the mine, operated by the Thai company Tungkum Ltd., which they accuse of polluting the environment and damaging health.
The company has responded by filing at least 19 lawsuits against them, according to rights groups, including charges of criminal defamation against a 15-year-old girl.
In May 2014, a week before the coup that brought the current military regime to power, Nanonbong villagers said they were mobbed by over 100 armed men while they were blocking the road to the mine.
On Tuesday, a provincial court sentenced Poramet Pomnak and Poramin Pomnak, a retired army officer and his son who is still an officer, to two and three years in prison respectively for their involvement in the attack, the community's lawyer told AFP.
The pair were also ordered to pay compensation to some of the victims.
The ruling marked a rare departure from the impunity often granted to soldiers in a country where the military routinely intervenes in both local and national politics.
"In the verdict the judge mentioned that the two suspects hurt villagers to clear the way for transporting minerals," lawyer Sor Rattanamanee Polkla told AFP.
The attack on the villagers, who were barricading a road that led to the mine, left at least a dozen injured.
Ms Nadia Hardman, a legal adviser who observed the trial on behalf of the International Commission of Jurists, welcomed the ruling but urged a deeper investigation into others involved in the attack.
"We are disappointed that only two people were indicted and found guilty," she told AFP.
She said over 100 community members gathered peacefully outside the courthouse Tuesday morning and handed out flower chains to police officers.
"It was quite an extraordinary gesture," she added.
Earlier this month the Thai government announced it would shut down gold mining across the country, a unexpected move in a country where profit often takes precedence. The current regime has pushed through a string of controversial environmental projects.
Thailand is also considered one of the world's most dangerous places for environmental activists. More than 80 of them have disappeared or been murdered since the early 80s.