January 31, 2017 / 9:06 AM / 2 years ago

Photographer captures deadly battle for land and environment in Thailand

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Photographer Luke Duggleby recalled a meeting four years ago with Thai environmental activist Jintana Kaewkhao, who told him how she faced assassination attempts in her fight to block a coal-fired power plant along the coast in southern Thailand.

Jintana survived, but Charoen Wat-aksorn, who protested alongside her and fought against another coal-fired power plant in a nearby community, was shot dead in June 2004.

The 39-year-old British photographer said the conversation with Jintana was pivotal for him, inspiring him to refocus his lens on the deadly battle for land, environmental and human rights.

“Ever since I met her, my views on everything changed. The type of work I wanted to cover changed,” said Duggleby, a photographer with the New York-based photo agency Redux Pictures, ahead of his exhibition “For those who died trying” that opened on Tuesday in Bangkok.

“I saw the fine line between life and death when taking on a powerful opposition.”

In 2015, Duggleby began photographing framed portraits of human rights activists who have been killed. Some are the very images displayed at their funerals - placed in the locations where they were murdered or last seen: at a bus stop or petrol station, in rubber and palm oil plantations, and at their homes.

The 35 photos - documenting 37 activists killed over the last 20 years - have been exhibited with support from the rights group Protection International at the United Nations in Geneva and European Parliament in Brussels.

London watchdog Global Witness calls the fight for land and the environment “a new battleground for human rights”, with more than three people a week killed in 2015 while struggling against governments, companies and gangs exploiting land for products like timber, minerals and palm oil.

The activists whose images Duggleby captured fought to expose illegal concessions for palm oil plantations, protect forests from illegal logging, and protest environmental pollution caused by mines.

Duggleby, who has been living in Thailand for a decade, is planning a short documentary on the struggle against a palm oil company and the government for land rights in Klong Sai Pattana, a community in southern Thailand where four activists have been killed.

He also hopes to continue taking photos to add to his photo exhibition.

“You can’t stop a project like this... To stop a project like this would be an injustice to those who were killed later,” he said.

Reporting by Alisa Tang @alisatang, editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org

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