BANGKOK––The Thai Court of Appeals on February 27, 2014 affirmed that all charges filed in February 2012 against the Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand, founder Edwin Wiek, and his wife Jansaeng “Noi” Sangnanork were without foundation.
The charges were dropped on August 27, 2013.
Explained Wiek to the Asian Animal Protection Network, “The Court of Appeal dismissed the complete case, as evidence provided in court clearly showed that we had always registered all animals correctly, and that Department of National Parks wildlife officials at the Region 3 office neglected their duty in producing their follow-up paperwork, resulting in our being charged for illegal possession of protected species.
“Directly after the court ruling,” Wiek continued, “the three defendants were told to get the $3,000 fine we had paid in 2013 back from the court, and to consider a countersuit for losses and tarnished reputation. We were told we should receive all confiscated animals back, but will have to go through the proper procedures. Right now we have no idea how long this might take.”
Wildlife Friends was repeatedly raided, beginning on February 13, 2012. Animals on the premises were seized, and Wiek and Sangnanork were jailed on charges of illegally possessing wildlife and illegally operating an animal hospital.
Wiek had for nearly 10 years repeatedly alleged that the administration of former Thai Department of National Parks, Wildlife & Plant Conservation chief Damrong Phidet was ignoring illegal trafficking of elephants and orangutans for use in tourist attractions.
Phidet was in August 2012 called to face a Parliamentary Committee on Law & Human Rights hearing in Bangkok, “to answer to allegations and questions on abuse of power, selective enforcement, slander and harassment,” Wiek recounted. Phidet retired a month later.
Some of the charges were dropped in October 2012, but on June 27, 2012 a provincial court found Wildlife Friends, Wiek, and Sangnanork guilty with a verdict stating, according to an unofficial transcript, that “This court has taken the statements of two government officials and believes these statements must be correct. The court did not check on paper and other evidence of the defendant, as it believes that Thai government officials always work straightforward, with full integrity. The court rules it has not considered any evidence that was handed over after the 13th of February 2012, no paperwork, video evidence or any form of other argument.”
Wiek’s legal counsel was unable to obtain an official written copy of the verdict, which was dismissed on appeal.
“It was most stressful to see the animals being harmed, knowing this was payback for speaking out about the illegal poaching of elephant babies and the involvement of government officials,” Wiek said. “In May 2013 these officials were found guilty in court, but received suspended sentences and were allowed to continue to working with the department.
“Over the last two years we lost a lot of support,” Wiek continued. “Some of our sponsors turned their backs on us, thinking that where there is smoke, there must be fire. It has been very hard to secure support to continue our work, as some people online said we must have done something wrong to get where we were. Luckily we also had some organizations and private people stick by us over these difficult times.”
Wiek thanked in particular International Primate Protection League founder Shirley McGreal, longtime Blue Cross of India chief executive Chinny Krishna, Animals Asia Foundation founder Jill Robinson, veterinarian Kati Loeffler, and Indian animal advocate Azam Siddiqui.