Homeless scavenger held under Emergency Decree to be sentenced

A homeless scavenger who was arrested on16 May and jailed under the Emergency Decree will be given a court ruling at the end of this month.

Somphol Wangprasert was brought to Pathumwan District Court on 6-7 Oct to be tried for his alleged offences under the Emergency Decree: conspiring with other four or more people to gather and instigate public unrest and using roads prohibited under the decree.

According to the indictment, he lived under the expressway next to the court, had no identification card, and was illiterate.  [His age is not certain as he does not remember his birthdate.  He, however, told the court that he was 53. - Prachatai]  He was arrested on 15 May, and has been detained at the Bangkok Remand Prison. 

A military officer from the 2nd Battalion of the 31st Royal Infantry Regiment in Lopburi testified as a prosecution witness on 6 Oct that after the government had announced a ban on assembly and travel on roads connecting to Ratchaprasong intersection, the military and police cooperated in setting up checkpoints in various areas.  He led 18 soldiers and 20 policemen to set up a checkpoint at Soi Chula 12 on Phaya Thai Rd to check on illegal activities and tell the public not to join the protest.  During 15-16 May, they arrested 15 protesters who came out of the rally site, including Somphol who was arrested at about 10 pm on 15 May.  The 15 arrestees were taken to be held at the 1st Royal Infantry Regiment.  The soldiers informed police at Phaya Thai Police Station about the arrests, and brought the police records for them to sign.

However, a police officer from Phaya Thai Police Station, also a prosecution witness, told the court that on 16 May at about 1 pm he went to record arrests at a military camp, and took the 15 persons arrested to Region 1 Border Patrol Police Command in Pathum Thani for interrogation, after they had been notified of their rights.

According to the police officer, Somphol denied the charges, and said he was a scavenger and had not joined the protests, but was arrested on his way from Hua Lamphong to the Suphachalasai National Stadium to play takraw.

Somphol’s lawyer, a volunteer appointed by the court, raised the question whether the military had a duty to arrest anybody, and why the checkpoint was set up more than 100 metres away from Phaya Thai Rd, which was forbidden by the CRES.

The defendant told the court on 7 Oct that he had lived alone under the expressway next to Duang Khae Temple for years.  He was arrested on 16 May between 8 and 9 am, not on the night of 15 May as recorded by the police.  During interrogation the police asked him just a few questions.  When the police finished typing the arrest record, they had him sign without reading it to him, and he could not read.

Somphol also testified that on that day he was walking to the stadium to play takraw as usual, and picked up garbage on the way.  When he reached the stadium gate at Chula Soi 12, he found that it was closed, so he sat down and put on his sports shoes, and looked for a way to get inside.  A few soldiers came to ask him what he was going to do.  He told them that he was going to play takraw.  The soldiers said, ‘People play takraw around here?’, and took him to their superior who asked what he did for a living.  He said that he was a scavenger.  The superior asked what was inside his bag, and he said that he had a takraw.  He was ordered to play takraw for them to see.  The superior said, ‘I know that you’re a scavenger, but I want to give you a lesson.  The police will let you go later.’

Somphol said that he was held without charge.  He was blindfolded with a piece of cloth and was taken into a vehicle.  He dared not say anything, for fear of being beaten by the soldiers.

He was asked by the prosecutor whether he had been involved with the protests, he at first denied it, but later said that he had been to the protests to ask for food when he lost money at takraw.  However, he did not go there on 16 May.  He said that he did not care about politics as much as feeding himself.

A Bangkok Metropolitan Authority street cleaner in the area told the court as a defence witness that he had known Somphol for about 6-7 years as they always played takraw together in the late afternoon.  He said that Somphol made a living from scavenging paper and plastic bottles.  He learned about the arrest about one week after it happened.

The court will give its ruling on 29 Oct.


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