by Ann Norman
They say, when something terrible happens to you, that’s you find out who your friends are. Pai Daodin has learned he has many friends.
Pai Daodin, age 25, has been frivolously charged with lese majesty and faces 3 to 15 years in jail if convicted, and all he did was share an ordinary BBC news article about Thailand’s new King on Facebook. If you live outside of Thailand, you can read the English version of the article here and see for yourself what all the fuss is about. There is a huge stigma associated with the charge of lese majesty in Thailand, and this draconian punishment for free speech is used politically to scare a whole population into silence. Those who want to believe in a just world (that is, most people) will assume that Pai Daodin must have done something to deserve a punishment so severe. The article Pai shared is now blocked from Thailand, so no one there can check the facts. So with no fear of contradiction, newspapers dutifully report that the BBC article is “controversial” and “goes too far,” and that, in sharing it, Pai may be considered a threat to national security. The government even claims to be “hunting” for the author of the article (an empty threat if the author lives abroad). While the government warns society to distance itself from Pai Daodin, his true friends stand up.
Below another group of friend perform a “dab” move while wearing masks with Pai’s face to show that “We are all Pai Daodin.” And I also see several three-fingered Hunger Games salutes, symbolizing opposition to the coup. As we mentioned in Part 4 of this series, Pai Daodin was a pioneer in the use of the Hunger Games salute in Thailand.
Pai Daodin’s support extends beyond close friends: 3,600 signed a petition demanding Pai’s release. More than 350 academics and intellectuals signed a letter protesting his treatment. It seems that every human rights organization on the planet is calling for the release of Pai Daodin, but among the loudest are the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, our Thai Alliance for Human Rights, Asian Human Rights Commission, Scholars at Risk Network, and Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.
Political Prisoners in Thailand states “Jatuphat [Pai] is clearly being singled out and framed by the junta and palace because he is a political activist and to send a powerful message that the king’s personal life has to be sanitized for Thais.”
Many believe it is King Vajiralongkorn himself who has ordered the persecution of Pai Daodin, which would explain why no legal arguments or appeals to human decency seem to work in this case
The King is probably jealous of Pai. Vajiralongkorn was not popular in school. He makes up for that today by traveling with a huge entourage. See a video here. However these are mostly people who are paid to be with him. You can tell they are taking orders from him by their submissive postures and the short haircuts (the men who work for him have to almost shave their heads and even the women must wear extremely short haircuts, which they do not like.) There is a reason Vajiralongkorn has no friends: he is cruel and erratic and known to turn on his closest friends. Just three weeks ago, at the end of February, palace watchers were astounded to learn that the King’ closest aid and presumed best friend Jumpol Manmai had suddenly dissapeared after falling into disfavor with the king. His disappearance lead friends and family to fear he had been murdered. Khun Jumpol soon reappeared, in court, to face the charge of land encroachment—building a house on public land. This follows a pattern of other palace purges: the royal protection that has allowed some illegal behavior to flourish for years is suddenly removed. But the story does get stranger. It was reported in newspapers Jumpol would be taken taken to “Provisional Prison of Bhuddha Monthol, Thavi Wattana district.” The this is not a prison anyone recognized, so someone did a search of the Government Gazette and found the authorization for that prison with a map plotting its location. The map places the temporary prison ON THE GROUNDS OF the PALACE of King Vajiralongkorn!
You would think a secret prison in the king’s palace for his closest former friends would be bombshell news, but its impact on Thai opinion has been almost zero. Thais who hear it react in momentary shock, then say it fits a pattern and so is really not all that shocking, then note regretfully that nothing can be done given the lese majesty law.
It is important to understand that this new King is not only less popular than King Bhumipol, who just passed away. This new King is “widely loathed and feared” (in the memorable words of Economist Magazine) because he seems to be a murderous sociopath along the lines of Kim Jung Un.
But perhaps the most damning thing I can say about Vajiralongkorn is not that he is like Kim Jung Un. It is that, in all the time I have been attacking Vajiralongkorn in print (and I have been asking if he may have murdered his ex-wife), not one person has ever come to to the man’s defense. They don’t tell me I’m wrong. They don’t tell me I’m exaggerating. They don’t show me a recent picture of ex-Princess Srirasmi. They do warn me that Vajiralonkorn is very dangerous. In fact, I can honestly say, in my entire 30-some-year involvement with Thailand, no one has ever said one nice word about the guy to me.
The Thai Alliance for Human Rights will continue to widely publicize the story of Pai Daodin, alongside the open secrets of King Vajiralongkorn, until Pai Daodin is released from jail.