62-year-old Amphon Tangnoppakul or "Uncle SMS" who was sentenced to 20 years on lese majesté offence last November passed away this morning. He was suffering from stomach pain and sent to prison's infirmary unit last Friday, according to his lawyer, Ms. Poonsuk Poonsukcharoen. Bail request has been applied eight times and all denied. “If Amphon’s right to temporary release was upheld, he could've gone to see the doctor and such a tragedy might not have happened” said Poonsuk.
Amphon, aka “Ah Kong”, was sent to jail last November after his being convicted to 20 years in prison for sending four offensive text messages to the phone belonging to personal secretary of former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. His case has drawn flaks from international human rights organizations which criticize the use of Section 112 of Thailand’s Penal Code for its harsh and unjustified punishment.
According to the lawyer, Amphon has been suffering from stomachache for months, but he was first transferred to hospital around noon last Friday and was admitted around 3.40 pm. He did not immediately receive diagnosis as the hospital lab was closed on weekend. His blood was taken for testing on Monday, but before the results were made known, he passed away around 9.10 am today.
"If Amphon was granted bail and could go see doctor regularly, such incident might not have happened" said the lawyer. Prior to this, Amphon has just had operation for oral cancer.
In early April, after being turned down almost ten times in bail request, he decided to withdraw his appeals motion and seek a royal pardon.
Corrections Department’s Director-general, Pol. Col. Suchart Wong-anantachai told Prachatai that the investigation committee will be conduct autopsy on Amphon's death, consisting of officers from Corrections Department, Attorney-General office, local inquiry officials and forensic medicine from the Police Hospital.
"I simply have no idea about the cause of his death. But I wonder why an old man like Ah Kong has to endure such an ordeal in jail like this" said Ms. Rosmalin Tangnoppakul, Amphon's wife, as she was retrieving Amphon's body at Bangkok Remand Prison early today.
Those who are accused or convicted of lese majesté in Thailand are often denied of right to temporary release. Most recent cases such as Red Siam leader Surachai Danwattananusorn, Thai-American Joe Gordon and red-shirt magazine editor Somyot Prueksakasemsuk were denied bails at least five times, while the court reasoned that lese majesté cases are risky to the national security and carry high punishment.
Wife and daughter of Amphon "Ah Kong" weeping after hearing the news at Bangkok Remand Prison