Pinit Chanarong and Saichon Paebua made headlines last week when they were acquitted of the arson attacks on the Central World shopping centre on May 19th 2010. At the time of their release, they had spent three years in prison without bail. Thai Red Shirts (TRS) met with Pinit and Saichon to congratulate them on their release and to discuss life as a political prisoner, the taste of freedom, and hopes for their future and as well as the future of Thai democracy.
TRS: How does it feel to be out of jail? Did you expect this outcome?
Pinit: It feels great. I want to say that I expected to be acquitted this whole time, because I could not imagine serving a sentence for a crime I did not commit. But the fact that I had already been in prison for three years dampened my confidence. I am grateful that the judge had mercy on me.
Saichon: I am so happy! To be honest, I did not expect to be acquitted, I expected the worst. When the judge read out the verdict I could not keep back the tears of joy. But I am also thinking about my friends who are still in prison, I worry about them. We need amnesty for political prisoners, and it must be swift.
TRS: Why were you involved in the protests in 2010?
Pinit: We marched for democracy. I wanted the non-elected post-coup government to be dissolved, and for new elections to be held.
TRS: When and where were you arrested?
Pinit: I was arrested as I came out of Wat Pathum, I had heard that it was a safe zone, free from live fire, but there was shooting all around me. The police that arrested me beat me and used a tasergun on me until I was unconscious. I was charged with arson after having been in prison for one month with other Red Shirt prisoners.
Saichon: I was also beaten by the police when I was arrested. I was notified of arson charges on the day of my arrest, and kept in Chana Songhklan police station for several days.
TRS: Do you feel that you had a fair trial?
Pinit: Yes, I do. But I think that the justice system in Thailand lacks clear standards. I was lucky. Other political prisoners have not received fair treatment. The judicial procedure during Abhisit’s government was unfair.
TRS: What were the conditions like inside the prisons?
Pinit: First of all, it was awful to be denied bail six times. I grew very stressed and depressed in prison. I spent a year and a half in Bangkok Remand Prison, which is severely overcrowded. It was very difficult to get visits from my friends and family. Afterwards I was transferred to Laksi Prison [ed. note: Laksi is a temporary prison for political offenders] which was much more comfortable. To be honest, my time in prison trained me to be a patient man. At Laksi I also learned a lot about Thai history and politics from other prisoners, I feel very well informed now.
Saichon: I spent more than one year in Bangkok Remand before being transferred to Laksi, and I agree, Laksi is much more comfortable. It is possible to get visits from other Red Shirts, and the support that they provided was invaluable.
TRS: What kind of support did you receive from the outside?
Pinit: I received so much help from Red Shirts, like food and necessities. Most importantly, they visited us and talked to us, and provided a great comfort. I also received medical help from a human rights organization, I can’t remember the name.
Saichon: Red Shirts brought us food and necessities and supported us throughout our time in prison. I cannot thank Red Shirt volunteers like Tui enough for taking time out of their ordinary lives to take care of us. They are the reason I survived this long.
TRS: What are your plans for the future?
Pinit: I want to go home to Isaan and open a shop with the compensation money that I will hopefully receive from the government. But before I turn to any business plans, I want to become a monk for a little while. I was inspired in prison and need to do it.
Saichon: I plan to go into business with my mother. I feel very hopeful about the future, I am free now. But amnesty for my friends is still on my mind.
TRS: How do you feel about the future of Thai democracy?
Pinit: I dream of democracy in Thailand. I am pleased that the current government was democratically elected, but I cannot expect too much from it. I know that the Thai political conflict is still ongoing. Democracy won’t come easy, but we’re on our way.