In a follow-up post we tried to make sense of a convoluted sequence of events over the next year-and-a-half that led to a verdict on June 27, 2013. Supporters were shocked by the news that the courts found WFFT and its founders, Edwin Wiek and Jansaeng Sangnanork, guilty of all charges. Although they were given a lenient sentence, thought by Wiek to be a way for the government to maintain face in light of no clear evidence that the charges were valid, WFFT decided to appeal the verdict in an effort to clear their reputation and help set a precedent for others in Thailand trying to advocate for animals. Eight months later on February 26, 2014, I was casually scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed when I happened upon Wiek’s latest status:
Today the court of appeals has ruled on the case of the raid on WFFT and brutal confiscation in February 2012 in our favor! The courts have found all of us NOT GUILTY! We will send a complete press-release and post it in English and Thai for everyone. It is official now! Helping animals is no crime in Thailand any longer!!!!
The press release released by WFFT states the case has now been dismissed and that all of the animals in their possession had indeed been registered correctly and the DNP officials were negligent in following up with paperwork on their end. WFFT will be reimbursed the fines they were charged and can consider a counter lawsuit against “losses and tarnished reputation.” They were also told that the confiscated animals will be returned, although at this point they don’t know how long that will take. The press release also stated that before WFFT decides whether or not to make a counter suit, they are going to set up a meeting with officials to “find a way to better cooperate in the future for the benefit of wildlife conservation and animal welfare.”
This ruling is important for the future of Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, but equally important for animal activists and wildlife conservation in Thailand in general. In a country notorious for the use of captive animals in the tourism industry and with a flourishing illegal wildlife trade, this ruling gives legitimacy to the work that organizations like WFFT are doing to help save endangered species and provide a better life for animals that are in captivity and cannot be returned to the wild. They also provide education to local Thais and foreign tourists alike that animals don’t belong in the entertainment industry, and that participating in activities like elephant trekking and animal circuses is supporting a life of abuse for these animals.
Congratulations to everyone at WFFT! We wish you the best of luck in any counter lawsuits and with your continued advocacy for wildlife. And for our readers interested in a compassionate, humane way to see animals in Thailand, consider visiting or volunteering with Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand.