Den Khamlae Citizen Journalism Fund

Pramote Pholpinyo of the Isaan Land Reform Network speaks about Den’s legacy at a memorial event on May 7 and 8, 2017 in Chaiyaphum Province. Photo credit: The Isaan Record

The Den Khamlae Citizen Journalism Fund was set up in 2017 following the presumed death of Den Khamlae. The awards given by the fund are intended to encourage students on the CIEE Khon Kaen programs who want to write significant journalism feature stories on a human rights issue in the Northeast of Thailand. To get an idea of the kinds of stories that would qualify, please see the website of The Isaan Record.

There is no assumption that students applying for the award have journalism experience. More important is the ability to work successfully with an editor and have the strength to go through many drafts.

There are two awards available per semester, each for $500. It is possible that the award for a given semester may be split in half if strong applicants apply. The deadline for the application for the Fall 2018 program is March 23, 2018. The deadline for the application for the Spring 2019 program is Oct. 19, 2018.

If interested, please apply HERE.

See past recipients here.

Read student works on The Isaan Record here.

Read more about Den’s life below:

Den Khamlae called the forests his home. As a member of the Communist Party of Thailand in the 50’s to the 70’s, to a farmer and land rights activist in the decades afterward, Den spent his life defending his home. In April 2016, he lost his life in the forests.

Despite his village, Khok Yao, having existed since 1954, the government declared their lands a reserve forest in the 80’s. After that point on, he and his fellow villagers fought and continue to fight for their land. From the government-planted eucalyptus trees that drained water from the soil and degraded surrounding crops to the false promises of compensation for moving off their lands, forest communities in Thailand have long suffered the government’s attempts to eject them from their lands in the name of increasing the country’s forest area.

In 2004, Den joined the Isaan Land Reform Network (ILRN), an informal alliance of villagers, lawyers, reporters, and activists working towards land reform throughout Northeastern Thailand.

In 2008, Den became the leader of the Khok Yao village group, making him responsible for directing policy proposals from the community to the government.

In July 2011, ten people from Khok Yao village, including Den and his wife Suphap, were arrested for trespassing onto reserve forest land.

But following the coup in May 2014, the situation became worse for land rights activists across Thailand. In July 2014, the military government announced their Forest Master Plan, which aimed to increase the country’s forest cover to 40% in ten years. However, this area does not count privately owned land, and because many villagers have lived on their lands for several decades, few had deeds of ownership for their land. Shortly after the coup, Khok Yao villagers received notice from government to relocate.

Still, Den continued to fight. At the Isaan Human Rights Festival in the following December, a video on forest and lands rights was shown. However, any parts critical of the government were censored, leaving the video unwatchable. But Den stood up and declared the grievances he and many villagers faced. With the government’s eyes on him, Den persevered and fought for land rights, no matter how much it took a toll on him.

In April 2o16, Den went into the forest with his two dogs in the morning. Later, the dogs returned. Den did not. That night, villagers reported hearing gunshots.

A year later, in April 2017, Suphap and villagers found a skull beside Den’s belongings.

A skull was found beside Den’s belongings on a path that its finder takes everyday to scavenge for food. Community members are still waiting for forensics to confirm their fears – Den’s disappearance and death. Photo credit: The Isaan Record

In the wake of Den’s disappearance and death, land rights activists turn to his legacy. In May 2017, the Khok Yao community held a memorial for Den to remember his life and discuss the land rights situation in Thailand.

As arrests and eviction continue, Den’s family and friends continue to fight for land rights. In January 2018, Suphap Khamlae was released from prison after six months. As she grieves, she insists she will continue fighting until justice is served for her husband, for land rights, for human rights in Thailand.