Over the course of recent months, Thai Red Shirts (TRS) has had the opportunity to engage with many of Thailand’s lèse majesté prisoners in and out of jail, as well as the incredible group of friends and family members who support them. Together, they make up a remarkable community which reveals the best and the worst of Thai society.
The community centers around Bangkok Remand Prison, the second home for prisoners that are accused or convicted of violating Thailand’s article 112 of the criminal code, the lèse majesté law that prohibits any statement which “defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, [and] shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.”
It is in Bangkok Remand where the bonds of friendships are formed between these prisoners of conscience who are surrounded by mostly violent offenders. The prison is also where a devoted team of former 112 prisoners and volunteers visit their friends behind bars on a weekly basis and provide them with whatever snacks and supplies they can afford ta the Bangkok Remand’s modest convenience store (outside goods are not permitted). These visits are crucial considering that many have been ostracized by their relatives due to their charges.
Nearly everyone in the Greater Bangkok Area who is charged with lèse majesté experiences Bangkok Remand Prison for the simple reason that defendants are almost never granted bail. The most extreme example of this fact is the ongoing detention of Somyot Pruksakasemsuk.
The leader of the 24 June Democracy group, Somyot has been in Bangkok Remand since his arrest on April 30th 2011 for two articles, deemed defamatory to the monarchy, that featured in the magazine Voice of Taksin, a Red Shirt publication for which Somyot was the acting editor at the time. He did not write the articles in question, but faces a sentence of up to 30 years on two counts of lèse majesté.
After a year and a half in prison, Somyot is still waiting for his verdict. He has been denied bail 11 times.
He told TRS,
My case is about human rights. Not just my human rights, but those of all Thai citizens.
Somyot’s indefinite detention is in direct violation of Section 40(7) of the Constitution, Section 107 of the Criminal Procedure Coede, and Article 9 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a party. His case has been taken up by the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH). The FIDH, among others, argues that the court has not provided “adequate justifications” for refusing Somyot’s multiple bail requests. His next, and hopefully last, trial date is set for December 19th, 2012.
Bangkok Remand is also home to Tanthawut Taweewarodomkul who was arrested in April 2010 for allegedly administrating a website which contained material deemed defamatory towards the monarchy. He was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment on March 15th, 2011, nearly a year after his arrest, for violating article 112 of the criminal code as well as section 14(3) of the Computer Crimes Act (CCA) that prohibits the “import to a computer system of any computer data related with an offence against the Kingdom’s security under the Criminal Code.”
Tanthawut, or Num as he also known, originally appealed his sentence, but repealed his appeal in September, 2012, after having spent nearly 2 and a half years in prison. He was denied bail 8 times.
He explained to TRS,
I am tired and desperate to be back with my 11 year old son. My faith in the Thai justice system is lost.
A single-dad, Tanthawut hopes that he will receive a Royal pardon that would allow him to get back to his family soon.
A mere 5% of lèse majesté defendants have been acquitted of their charges. Surapak Puchaisaeng, a 41 year old computer programmer, was arrested in September 2011 for allegedly posting defamatory comments on Facebook. His trial started a year late in September, 2012 (his 4 bail requests were all denied). Fortunately, Surapak’s knowledge of computers allowed him to show the court that the evidence on his computer could have easily been planted by another party. The case was dropped on October 31st, 2012.
Surapak is now reunited with his mother who traveled tirelessly throughout her son’s trial. He also joins the ranks of former 112 prisoners that have served their sentences and are now trying to reintegrate into Thai society. Nat Sattayapornpisut, who was released after serving 2 years and 4 months of a 4 and a half year sentence due to good conduct, has found his return to society difficult. His arrest, trial, and prison time, have caused him great mental distress and he feels that his prior conviction makes it very difficult for him to find work.
The hardships of reintegration proved too great for ex-112 prisoner Joe Gordon. A Thai-born American citizen, Joe decided to leave his homeland in November, 2012, to return to the United States where he lived and worked for nearly 30 years after studying at an American university. He spent over a year at Bangkok Remand Prison before receiving a royal pardon in July, 2012. Joe left Thailand because he did not feel sufficiently secure in his person.
I am sad to leave Thailand, but I don’t feel safe here. The lèse-majesté law is a double-edged sword because it breeds resentment.
Before his departure, Joe’s friends held a going-away party on his behalf. His former inmates Surapak and Nat were there, along with many of the people who had supported them through prison. Although many were sad to lose their friend, the atmosphere was jovial and the karaoke was flowing. The occasion showed that, despite their trials, there is little that can break this community.