So who is Kan-thoop? Kan-thoop is a name that is familiar to those who have closely followed Thai politics over the past two years, especially if they are embedded in the social media.
“Kan-thoop” (in Thai translates as “incense stick”) is the online nickname of a young female who has become a notable personality in Thailand’s recent political drama—she’s become an object of much hate, admiration and a source of not a little anxiety in some quarters. Just before the 2012 New Year’s eve, Kan-thoop resurfaced in national news and caused a buzz in the Thai online world. Not because she has done something outrageous recently, but because what she did two years ago has caught up with her—again. This time, officially.
Kan-thoop, a first-year Thammasat University student, has just recently been added to the growing list of alleged lèse majesté offenders in Thailand. Only 19 years old, she may be the youngest person to be officially charged under Thailand’s harsh “lèse majesté law.” If convicted of lèse majesté (a criminal offence according to Article 112 in Thailand’s Criminal Code), a person is liable to up to 15 years imprisonment. The rate of conviction among those charged with Article 112 is 94% (according to Thai lèse majesté historian David Streckfuss).
Kan-thoop received a summons from Bangkok police dated 25 October 2011 which states that she has allegedly defamed the King because of the comments she posted on her Facebook during March and April 2010. She is scheduled to report to the police on 11 January 2012 but she has requested a postponement to 11 February 2012.
Whatever she said on her Facebook page, her comments drew fierce reactions and triggered a hate campaign that has plagued her ever since the comments became known in April/May 2010. At the height of the hate campaign against her in 2010, she received threats of physical violence and was denied a seat at a university despite having passed the qualifying examination following loud protests against her admission. She was then rejected by another university and discouraged from the third, again, despite having passed the qualifying examination to both. She missed one full year of opportunity for studies.
The hate campaign against her finally subsided and by 2011 few knew what became of her, only that she had changed her name to avoid further harassment and intimidation. Then on 26 December 2011 ASTV-Manager, the online newspaper of choice for many staunch Thai royalists, reported that Kan-thoop had been studying at Thammasat, a top tier university in Thailand known for its more liberal politics. The ASTV-Manager report not only identified the department in which she has been studying but also published her new official name. Since then it has come to light that she has been officially summoned for lèse majesté.
The wider public knows very little about Kan-thoop, even those who have heard of her, for she has kept silent—until just a few days ago. On 6 January 2012, the Thai-language newspaper Matichon Online published Kan-thoop’s first press interview. Below is the transcript of the interview as reported by Matichon Online.
Matichon Online Interview with Kan-thoop by Fahroong Srikhao
Note: Texts in [brackets] are my own additions for clarification.
Fahroong: Ever since you’ve finished high school, to which universities have you passed the entrance exam?
Kan-thoop: In 2009, I passed the qualifying exam [for the 2010 academic year] to the Arts Faculty at Silapakorn University. I had an interview [which is part of the direct admission process] but the results came out that I failed. In the same year I also passed the exam for the Social Sciences Faculty (political science) at Kasetsart University but I decided not to go through with the interview because there were so many people there [on the day of the interview] and I thought I might not be safe. I was by myself that day, so I just forfeited my right to the interview. In 2010, I passed the exam to Srinakharinwirot University—Prasanmitr but when I went to the interview, the interviewing professors weren’t happy with the fact that I passed the qualifying exam. The interview wasn’t quite finished and I was asked to leave and told to wait for the results, which were that I failed. Then in 2011, I got into Thammasat University.
Fahroong: The night before you were going to have the interview at Kasetsart University, someone posted on a website to mobilize a crowd to stop you [going to the interview], is that right?
Fahroong: You said the professors weren’t happy with you. What were their reactions?
Kan-thoop: At Silapakorn there were no reactions, just a normal interview. At Prasanmitr, as soon as I went in to introduce myself and wasn’t quite finished with that, the professors just stopped me and said they knew who I was and what I had done, so they told me to go back and wait for the results at home.
Fahroong: When did you change your name?
Kan-thoop: When I applied for Silapakorn University I hadn’t yet changed my name but I had changed it by the time I applied for Prasanmitr.
Fahroong: When you applied for Thammasat, did you think that the history would repeat itself like what happened with the previous three universities?
Kan-thoop: I was hoping that it wouldn’t happen [but] I was mentally prepared for not a rejection.
Fahroong: Have you ever met the university executives like Ajarn Somkid Lertphaithoon [the rector] and Ajarn Prinya Thevanareumitkul [the deputy rector for student affairs]?
Kan-thoop: No, not personally but I have taken a class, TU 100, with Ajarn Prinya. So I inevitably saw him in class.
Fahroong: At the freshmen welcome you did not stand to the royal anthem. Was that the case?
Kan-thoop: Not true. We all stood in the football field. Even if someone had not wanted to stand, they would have been pressured by the others surrounding us to stand. It was impossible for me or anyone else not to stand.
Fahroong: Do you know that there’s been a rumor that you didn’t stand?
Kan-thoop: Yes, I’ve seen it. It makes no sense to attack me with this, which is not based on facts. It’s just not possible by any imagination.
Fahroong: Have you ever been harassed [over your political stance] at Thammasat?
Kan-thoop: Occasionally. There have been slurs and sarcastic remarks made in class. The worst was a shoe thrown at me. This happened in the beginning of my time at Thammasat.
Fahroong: Can you tell me more about that?
Kan-thoop: It happened at night. A group of students just returned from a retreat. Some were drunk. They got out of a car near where my friends and I were sitting, working. They were standing and talking. Then a shoe just flew at us. They came to pick it up and said the shoe just slipped.
Fahroong: Did they know you were “Kan-thoop”?
Kan-thoop: From the time they got out off the car, they were whispering, and then got excited when they saw who was sitting there.
Fahroong: So everybody knew you and knew that you had a case?
Kan-thoop: Yeah, all my classmates knew.
Fahroong: What were the slurs and sarcastic remarks?
Kan-thoop: For instance, “who doesn’t love…, get out,” along the same line as the army chief telling people to get out of the country.
Fahroong: What’s the positive side at Thammasat?
Kan-thoop: Everybody is different. And I think everybody being different is a beautiful thing in this world. I don’t return the hurt or the sanction to people, or feel angry. I understand those friends who have done those things to me, that they have got different information.
Fahroong: How has your family responded to your having been accused?
Kan-thoop: They have been supportive.
Fahroong: You got up on the redshirt stage. Is that true?
Kan-thoop: Yes, true. I went on a redshirt stage when I was in secondary school. It was in Bangkok during a rally to General Prem’s residence. That was the year of the first round of redshirt crackdown in April (2009).
Fahroong: Are you still involved in student activities at the university?
Kan-thoop: I take part in normal activities at the university like other students. I am part of a free group, which works with any students’ groups [within the university], as well as outside.
Fahroong: Aren’t you weary or afraid of any more [legal repercussions]?
Kan-thoop: I feel activism doesn’t necessarily have to be political. So I’m not quite sure how to respond to the word “weary,” because some activities have nothing to do with politics.
Fahroong: What activities are you involved in?
Kan-thoop: Those relating to anti-SOTUS [freshmen hazing] activities, anti-use of violence against human beings and fellow students.
Fahroong: Did you engage in any activities during the floods?
Kan-thoop: I tried to as much as I could but there were several limitations. My folks were concerned. I helped at the Thammasat flood shelter but as I was working there were people taking my pictures, so I went to help at Don Muang instead.
Fahroong: Does your family forbid you to engage in any activities?
Kan-thoop: They do warn me and try to discourage me from doing too much.
Fahroong: Why are you still active even when you have been accused with a pretty serious offence?
Kan-thoop: I want to live a normal life. I don’t want it [the lèse majesté accusations] to dictate my life. No matter what, life goes on. The legal case will take its course.
Fahroong: Is your family redshirt?
Fahroong: So how have they handled the matter about you?
Kan-thoop: They forbid me and warn me, and try to pull me back. I understand my family and why they would want to stop me. But in the end I just can’t stand the injustice in this society. Others would do the same thing if they saw what I have seen.
Fahroong: What made you think this way?
Kan-thoop: Many things. Those who have followed politics likely have recognized the ongoing injustice in this society, be they double standards or unfair use of the law. Because of these things, you just can’t quit for your own survival.
Fahroong: When you were accused you were only 17 years old. Did you also think about injustice at the time?
Kan-thoop: I feel that “realization” has nothing to do with age. If someone will learn or realize something, they just do, regardless of their age.
Fahroong: What do you want to do in the future?
Kan-thoop: I want to be a teacher, like Ajarn Somsak [Jeamtheerasakul, a Thammasat historian and well-known critic of the establishment, who is also facing lèse majesté accusations and has been summoned by police].
Fahroong: What subjects do you like?
Kan-thoop: I have taken only six courses and enjoyed them all.
Fahroong: Have you taken any classes with Ajarn Somsak?
Kan-thoop: I have only sat in his class. He taught only one class this term at the Rangsit campus, so I sat in that class. It was Russian history.
Fahroong: Do you also sit in other classes?
Kan-thoop: I’ve sat in classes at the Law and Political Science faculties.
Fahroong: Have you studied with the Nitirat Group yet?
Kan-thoop: No, I haven’t yet got a chance.
Fahroong: Why did you choose to study in the Social Welfare faculty?
Kan-thoop: Because I had done some volunteer work and got to know a senior student from this faculty. I just thought that his views about society were very beautiful. [I thought] the ideals and principles [he learned] in this faculty shaped him like that. I admired his way of thinking so I wanted to learn what made him that way.
Fahroong: What do you think caused you to face serious accusations?
Kan-thoop: The accusations are used in political attacks…. It’s part of the process of political transformation.
Fahroong: Do you see yourself as a victim or a phenomenon that reflects what’s happening in this society?
Kan-thoop: I think that’s for others to say because I’m still having my normal life. I go out, go to the movies, have fun, do my things normally.
Fahroong: Do you know anybody who might be involved in the witch-hunt against you?
Kan-thoop: I don’t know anybody personally, or if I did I wouldn’t know if they are in it or not. If that’s the case, I don’t have a problem being friends with them.
Fahroong: Why do you think you can be friends with people who are hunting you?
Kan-thoop: The Social Welfare faculty teaches me to live with diversity in society, so I don’t have a problem being friends with people who are different from me. It depends more on them, if they’d have any problem with me, with a kind of difference like me.
Fahroong: What principles do you have in leading your life facing this sort of thing at your age?
Kan-thoop: It’s just a learning process because everything that comes into your life will pass and become a lesson for you to learn. I have to continue to live my life.
Fahroong: Have you ever been stressed?
Kan-thoop: Stressed as usual and not just about this matter. I am also stressed about my studies, exams and other things.
Fahroong: Your family doesn’t want you to be so active [politically], how do you reconcile with them?
Kan-thoop: I try to avoid possible negative repercussions by staying more behind the scene and avoid being too visible, like not having my name listed in the activities that I do. But I still continue participating.
Fahroong: How would you like to see [Thai] society change?
Kan-thoop: I think it’s already changing. I’d like to see it more open, more tolerant, and more learning from one another.
Fahroong: Ever thought “why me” with these accusations?
Kan-thoop: These accusations are made easily. If not me, it’ll be someone else, and there are more and more [accusations].
Fahroong: Why did you ask for a postponement to report yourself to the Bang Khaen police to 11 February 2012?
Kan-thoop: Because [the original date in the summons] is in conflict with the final exams of my first term which have been postponed due to the floods.
Fahroong: The Article 112 summons alleges the incidents from which year?
Kan-thoop: Probably 2010. The thing is, some people were circulating information on the Internet by capturing several images of [my] Facebook postings and put them together in forward emails. I’m not sure if cutting and pasting [images] from the Internet can really be used as evidence in filing a complaint because people can do whatever they like with cutting and pasting.
Fahroong: So the fact is, there was cutting and pasting of images accompanied by the accusations that you posted certain comments. These were then circulated, and the hunting of you followed. Is that correct?
Fahroong: How has [Thammasat University] been taking care of you?
Kan-thoop: My advisor has been calling me to see how I’m doing, and told me to let the process run its course. My teachers also take care of my safety.
Fahroong: Were you facing any threats when you moved to another province when you were in Mor 4 [Grade 10]?
Kan-thoop: No, I wasn’t threatened. My family moved, so I moved with my family.
Fahroong: Besides internet harassment, have you faced any threats/intimidation in real life?
Kan-thoop: Some, for instance, last year someone went to my old province and asked people in the neighborhood if they knew me. Some claimed to be authorities and some just ordinary people.
Fahroong: Among those who support you, what have they said to you?
Kan-thoop: They said they give me “moral support.” Those words are all that’s needed. I think morale is the most important thing. What keeps me strong is all the heartfelt support from my dear friends and my dear teachers.
Fahroong: What has impressed you since you’ve attended Thammasat University?
Kan-thoop: I feel that this university is the most open minded of all the universities to which I’ve ever passed the exams. I’m very impressed by this [Thammasat’s openness].
Fahroong: Do you have favorite historical figures?
Kan-thoop: Hmm, I don’t worship historical figures. I tend to admire people I actually know because, I believe, I can admire or love them more wholeheartedly than I can do the historical figures.
Fahroong: You tend not to believe in stories that have been told, that you have not experienced yourself, is that what you meant?
Kan-thoop: I don’t give too much importance [to stories] to the point that I’d adore or worship [historical figures]. I don’t believe [in that].
Fahroong: What kind of books do you read?
Kan-thoop: Books on history and novels.
Fahroong: What kind of stories do you like to write for yourself?
Kan-thoop: Poems because I can compose some poems. They’re not just about politics, but also about love, nature, and nonsensical stuff.
Fahroong: What poems are in your heart?
Kan-thoop: (Laughter) Poems by Visa Khanthap. But it seems Brother Visa has… (laughter) kind of changed.