Somyot’s Story in His Own Words
I never thought that I would, in my 50s, become a “criminal” being imprisoned, having my life and liberty virtually ripped off, and living in an impenetrable cage like a helpless animal!
Like many young people of my generation who dreamed about a new and civil society in which people live without oppression and unfair manipulation and in which people are equal and enjoy their liberty, freedom, and democracy, I spent my youthful years with laborers, fighting for their better lives, human dignity, freedom, rights, and social justice.
I was not a wealthy man, and I lived a moderate life. I never cheated or hurt others. I never thought of accumulating wealth. I shared my humble savings with those poorer than I was. Some of my friends from the old days told me, “You are mistaken–pursuing a dream too idealistic!” Many of them have become millionaires, respected teachers/professors, or famous politicians, all enjoying wealth and comfort. I, on the other hand, lived an simple life on the streets eating ordinary food.
I grew up fighting for civil rights, freedom, and democracy. Every time a coup was successfully staged, the lives of Thai citizens got worse and their rights and freedom were robbed. Coups only led to fatal violence against civilians and imprisonment. I could not just watch and try to be safe myself. I fought against the tyranny several times, i.e. during October 1976, February 1992, and more recently September 19, 2006. I believe that fighting against the tyrants is my civil duty and contributes to the society, which is also a moral belief in Buddhism.
At first I was a mere participant in campaigns against coups, occasionally passively listening and joining the rally. After I had met many friends, I formed a group called “the June 24th for Democracy,” which was a party among those that constituted the UDD (United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, or nor por chor), or the redshirts.
After the core leaders of the UDD had been arrested in 2007, 2009, and 2010, my colleagues and I under the June 24th for Democracy Movement campaigned so seriously for their release that we were regarded by the media as the 2nd generation of the UDD core leaders. The fact is, after the release, I became an ordinary figure who still fought on as an individual to the point that I was sued by General Saprung Kalayanamitra for having insulted him while I was on stage campaigning against the military regime. I fought in courts alone with the help of a humanitarian lawyer. The verdict handed me two years of imprisonment (1 year suspension) with a fine of 100,000 baht, resulting in an unpaid debt until today. The creditor who happens to be a close friend of mine told me, “You picked the wrong side; look, nobody cares to help you!”
Then I was invited to write articles for the Voice of Taksin magazine. Soon afterwards, the managing team ran into an unresolved conflict, and I was assigned as an managerial editor. I only thought that it would be an opportunity for me to use the media independently or freely as the central stage for people who wish to fight against the aristocrats, the coups, and the unconstitutional powers that had long overshadowed Thai democracy.
After the Abhisit government had brutally murdered the redshirts during April-May 2010, Ajaan Suthachai Yimprasert and I condemned the Abhisit administration, which resulted in a pursuit by the police and forced detention at the Adisorn Military Camp in Sara Buri Province. The police asked me to stop my service for the Voice of Taksin magazine, cease associating with the redshirts, and help the (Abhisit) government in falsely identifying the armed men in black suits or black-shirted force. They said I would be charged with violation of insulting the monarchy (Article 112) unless I cooperated.
Of course, I refused and never cared about the warning by that policeman. After the release, I continued with my missions as before, but only the magazine title was changed. I considered it rightful for the people to fight peacefully and that it was the right and freedom of the people under democracy to peacefully resist although it might result in fetal harms.
During the period that followed, increased and strict enforcement of the Article 112 was evident. I deemed such enforcement as a violation of people’s rights. I shared my opinions publicly that the Article 112 was an unjust law. On April 23, 2011, I led a press conference, announcing that I would collect at least 10,000 signatures so as to petition for the amendment of the Article 112, as guaranteed by the 2007 constitution as a right of the people.
Professor Yimprasert advised me to flee Thailand because it was rumored that the DSI (Department of Special Investigation) was issuing some arrest warrants against those in violations of Article 112, but I believed in my innocence and was confident that I would certainly be granted justice (if charged). Thus, I went nowhere although I was being pursued by some individuals whose faces would over time become familiar. Yet, I didn’t know who they were and what their purpose was.
Although I worked hard as a journalist fighting against coups and rarely had time for my family, I love them so much that didn’t want to flee anywhere. I was happy with my lifestyle dedicated to the people’s cause for justice, principles, and new better society, so I surely did not want to escape. Then, on April 30, 2011, as I was leading a tour group toward Cambodia, I was arrested. I did not resist nor panic. It was the first time for me being cuffed. I was taken to a cell at the police headquarters full of dust and filled with filthy odor from disgustingly dirty restrooms, and I fell asleep in exhaustion.
The war-ready commando police took me for extended detention at the Supreme Court on May 2, 2011 as if I was a dangerous criminal, and I was then detained at the Bangkok Special Prison.
Mr. Surachai Danwattananusorn, who had been charged with the Article 112 and imprisoned there before me, advised me to plead guilty, reasoning that I would, otherwise, never get justice and would not be granted bail. He advised me to do so in order to later ask for pardon from the King.
I didn’t take his advice, confidently believing in my innocence and the judicial system. I filed for release on bail many times, unsuccessfully. The reason given was that the case is a serious one and that I would flee if bailed out. During November 2011-April 2012, I was sent for trials in Sra Kaew Province, Petchaboon Province, Nakorn Sawan Province, and Songkla Province, and I would every time be caged in each local jail for a excessively long time, so long that I fell ill. My body became weak and thin, and I even coughed out blood!
When I returned to the prison in Bangkok, the police and the attorney proposed a 50% reduction of punishment if I pleaded guilty. Of course, I ignored it and stood firm on my innocence and my confidence in the judicial system. I fought on under the system. During the trial periods, I prepared nothing and only planned to reveal all the truths and facts, because I remain faithful in my innocence.
As a result, I have been imprisoned for two full years, spending the monotonous, boring life without freedom among inmates who came in and left the prison. My case is merely about expressing political opinions during that time, but the court allowed an interpretation beyond what was written in order to convict me. I had done my duty as a journalist editor sincerely and frankly, so I always hoped I would be granted justice and be released eventually. Yet, on January 23, 2013, I was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment, plus one more year of the suspended sentence, a total of 11 years!
I have reflected on my lessons for many days. The extreme ordeal and pain almost pushed me toward suicide as a way out of all this incredible suffering. My son, Mr. Paniparn Pruksakasemsuk, is the one giving me the strength to continue fighting the case, although it would take up to 5-6 years. Mr. Wasan Panich, my lawyer, is the only other person helping me fight in the Appellate court.
I repeatedly examined whether my decision has been right.
- Have I picked the wrong side, given the 2-year detention without bail while other folks are now enjoying their rewards?
- “Idealism yields nothing!”
- “Fighting on my cause only put me in arbitrary detention!”
- Why don’t I just confess and plead guilty as it would allow me to leave the prison sooner?
- Would I be out of here now if I had pleaded guilty?
- “Fighting on means dissent!”
“I have warned you, those who verbally encouraged you are not here in jail with you.”
- “You would long be in jail if you fought on.”
Yet, deep inside of me, I remain faithful in my innocence, dead or alive.
Please help me find an answer to all these questions and thoughts that have lingered in my head these many days!