Despite testimony from Amnat (who is referred to by his first name) and others naming the four soldiers, the Chiang Mai Court said there was insufficient evidence in the long-running case to convict the soldiers, who were an active duty in the Thai Army at the time of the shooting.
“This is a funeral for justice,” said Amnat after the verdict was read.
Amnat, the publisher of Phak Nua Raiwan (Northern Daily) in Chiang Mai, the largest city in northern Thailand, has pursued the case almost single handedly since he nearly died from wounds inflicted by a gunman’s bullet on April 18, 2000 in a suburb of Chiang Mai.
“This is deeply disappointing,” said A. Lin Neumann, the Bangkok-based Asia consultant for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). “It is a setback for Amnat’s efforts to pursue justice and sends a chilling message to all journalists in Thailand.”
Prosecutors were initially hesitant to charge the soldiers, who were identified by Amnat shortly after the shooting, but the four were eventually arrested after public pressure. The trial began in November 2000, but the proceedings dragged on for several years with the court meeting only intermittently to hear evidence. The soldiers were represented by prominent private attorneys and presented witnesses contradicting Amnat’s contention that they were hired to assassinate him.
An appeal in the case must be filed within one month, or the soldiers will be eligible to return to active duty and the decision will be final.
In the years since the shooting, Amnat and members of his family have routinely received anonymous death threats warning them to back away from pursuing the case.
The attempted murder turned Amnat, 49, into a symbol of independent journalism in Thailand. His brand of courageous local reporting is rare in Thailand because of political and financial pressures on provincial journalists. Amnat had hoped that by pursuing the soldiers he would eventually be able to uncover the mastermind of the crime in open court.
Amnat has repeatedly said that he was targeted because of his newspaper’s exposés about powerful and corrupt politicians in Chiang Mai. Amnat said today that his defeat in court is a victory for corruption in Thailand.