Tanthawut Mourns Ah Kong: An Account of Injustice

On 8 June 2012, one month after Ah Kong (Amphon Tangnoppakul) was found dead in prison custody, Tanthawut Taweewarodomkul, or “Num,” wrote an account of his life and death. Tanthawut, who, like Ah Kong, was serving a sentence following a conviction of alleged violations of the 2007 Computer Crimes Act and Article 112 of the Criminal Code, was imprisoned in the same zone of the Bangkok Remand Prison. Num took care of Ah Kong during the nearly two year period Ah Kong spent behind bars, until his death. The letter was originally posted on the website of the Ratsadornprasong Legal Institute, which serves as legal counsel in both cases, and then on Prachatai several days later.

The letter is translated here because it is an account of the events leading up to Ah Kong’s death, which remains surrounded by questions. It is a historical document –one which bears witness both to the injustice Ah Kong experienced and the compassion and solidarity between two friends, Ah Kong and Tanthawut. For those scholars currently writing about this period, and to those who will write about this period, this letter is a “primary source.” The archive of documents kept, or discarded, by the state, is not the only account of history, of what has taken place. This is a history that is devastating, and one from which it is impossible to turn away.

***

Written by: Num Daeng Non

Date: 8 May 2012

Title: “To a friend named Ah Kong who has passed away named, from a friend of a different age who shared the same fate”

“Amphon Tangnoppakul, Amphon Tangnoppakul, contact the Zone office. You are released!!” The announcement made through the microphone echoed throughout Zone 8.  I had asked fellow prisoner friends to make the announcement for the release of Ah Kong's soul.  Amid the shock and surprise at the death of the elderly man we used to see every day, myself, Mee [Suriyan Kokpuey], Mighty Wuttichai, Saichon Thongsuk, and other friends of Ah Kong's gathered and walked together to the Zone 8 exit door. The exit door is a towering door with thick bars. We opened the door slowly. Each person delivered a farewell to Ah Kong: “Bye-bye, uncle. Walk slowly home, uncle. Aunty Oo is there. Go see her, uncle!!” My last goodbye to Ah Kong went into a void of emptiness. I imagined that I could see Ah Kong walking, slowly, slowly, to Door 4, which is the door that leads out of the prison.

What caused Ah Kong to be abruptly snatched from us? We shared life together only last week. This is a question whose answer I really want to know. This should not have happened. This really should not have happened.

Symptoms leading up to Ah Kong’s death

Ah Kong and I, along with other friends, usually exercised together every morning. For 15-30 minutes before eating breakfast, Ah Kong and I would swing our hands together. In early April, Ah Kong complained to me that he had a stomachache in the area above his navel. I cannot remember whether it was on the left or the right side. I thought that perhaps his abdomen hurt from exercising. I told Ah Kong to stop the arm-swinging exercise until he ceased being in pain. Shortly beforehand, around January, Ah Kong had these symptoms. He stopped swinging his arms and the pain went away. Perhaps this time was like the last time. After that day, Ah Kong stopped exercising in order to wait and see if the pain would go away.

One week passed and Ah Kong was still experiencing pain. On Monday, 23 April, I sent him to go request to go to the clinic.  But he was not checked that day because in the morning, the Lawyers’ Society came to meet with him, and Aunty Oo came to visit. So he had to move the visit to the clinic forward another day.

On Tuesday, 24 April, Ah Kong went to the clinic in the morning. But he was not really examined.  Ah Kong said that they asked him what was wrong. He answered that his stomach hurt. They told him to return to the Zone and that they would arrange for medicine for him. Ah Kong returned to the Zone and received 1 packet of medicine in the evening. I am not certain about the kind of medicine they sent, but I told him to try it. If he did not get better, then he could request to go to the clinic again. At this time, Ah Kong still appeared okay. He could eat, he could walk around.

Ah Kong took the medicine from this packet for 3-4 days. But his symptoms did not subside. His stomach still hurt, and it swelled to be slightly bigger than usual. When pressed, it felt hard. No one thought the swelling was out of the ordinary, since Ah Kong already had a belly. On Monday, 30 April, I made a request for Ah Kong to go back to the clinic. When he returned from the clinic, he said that they did the same as before. They asked him what was wrong, and they were going to send him back to the Zone just as before. But this time, Ah Kong could not bear it any longer.  He was frantic, and said “Examine me! My stomach has hurt for many days. I have taken medication but it has not gotten any better.  Without examining me, how will you know what is wrong?!!”  So they examined him, and then in the evening he received another packet of medicine.

After Ah Kong took the second packet of medication, his pain still did not go away. His stomach grew larger, tauter, and very hard. At this point, P’Somyos (1), who had prior experience with liver disease, remarked to Ah Kong that it might be a symptom of a problem with his liver. When he heard this, Ah Kong began to be clearly anxious. He wept and said to me, “Why hasn’t it gone away? I am already suffering terribly. Just let me die!!” He uttered these words many times. I comforted him and told him not to worry, this week he would go to the Prison Hospital. I told him to hold on just a little bit longer. I encouraged him in the way that I had in every other moment. He was particularly encouraged by the news that Khun Anon (2) brought on Wednesday, 2 May, that he was trying to hasten the pardon application for Ah Kong and our other friends in cases under Article 112. That day, Khun Anon remarked that Ah Kong looked unwell. I asked Khun Anon to ask Ajarn Waan (3) for urgent help to arrange for Ah Kong to go to the Prison Hospital. Khun Anon did so. We believed that there were skillful doctors at the Prison Hospital who could make Ah Kong’s pain go away.

By Thursday, 3 May, Ah Kong’s condition was clearly deteriorating. He refused the rice porridge that we ordered and bought him daily. I gave him Vitamilk (4) to drink, so that he could take his medicine. After that, he went to sleep. At that time, it was very hot. I rubbed balm on his chest, back, and neck, to help him breathe more easily. And I fanned him continuously. He laid down, awaiting Aunty Oo’s daily visit. But that day, a strange thing happened. There was an announcement that Ah Kong’s family had come to visit. Every other time, Ah Kong would rush, almost running, to go pick up the slip to visit his family. But this time, we had to help him up. Ah Kong turned around and looked at my face. He looked like he was going to cry, and said to me, “Come with me, Num. Go with me. I am unable to walk on my own.” I had never heard this tone, or these words, from Ah Kong in the nearly 2 years that we had been together in the prison. I asked for permission from the guards to go with Ah Kong to the family meeting point so that he could see Aunty Oo. Then I wrote a note for him to give Aunty Oo telling her to call Ajarn Waan again about arranging for Ah Kong to go to the Prison Hospital. I asked Aunty Oo to buy drinkable yogurt and easy-to-digest fruit for Ah Kong also, so that he could eat when he felt unwell.

After their visit ended, Ah Kong and I met Aunty Oo in the area for receiving items sent from outside. I held my hand up to my ear, with my fingers in the sign of a telephone, to remind Aunty Oo and Aunty Noi (the wife of Surachai Sae Dan) to remember to call Ajarn Waan. Aunty Oo nodded in understanding. Then I pointed a finger at Ah Kong and then waved my hand to signal to her that she did not need to worry about him. After that, Ah Kong and I walked back to Zone.

Who knew that the meeting that day between Ah Kong and Aunty Oo would be their last? Who knew that this would be the last time that this couple, this husband and wife, who had watched over one another and supported each other for many years, met?

On the morning of Friday, 4 May, Ah Kong went to sleep in the cafeteria after his morning bath. Like the day before, he would not eat the rice porridge. I let him sleep, and prepared the Vitamilk to give to him. There was an announcement that Ah Kong was being sent to the Hospital that morning. I was happy because it meant that he would be able to see a doctor. The announcement for him to go came at 9 am. I woke Ah Kong up to drink the Vitamilk and put on clothes to go to the hospital. He did not drink even half of it before he said he could not drink any more. I helped him up in the cafeteria. I noticed that his eyes were very yellow. His stomach was still swollen and hard like before. I suggested that he sit in a wheelchair to go out, since he was no longer able to walk. He was pushed slowly out. This was my last glimpse of Ah Kong. I did not imagine that this parting would be our last, that we would never again meet.

The old man was disloyal?

After all of our conversations, I can assert that Ah Kong was neither yellow nor red. He wasn’t slim (5) either. He told me that he liked to go to different protests. The protests were fun and sometimes they gave out free food. The first protest he went to was one of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD). He got a yellow shirt and an autograph from Chamlong Srimuang to take home. After that, he went to Red Shirt protests, and got a red shirt and a bandana cloth to tie around his head to take home. He did not have to pay for any of these things. Ah Kong spent most of his time taking his grandchildren to school and picking them up afterwards. He also helped Aunty Oo around the house.  When he was done with these things, then he would go to the demonstrations. After 2-3 hours, when he was bored, he would take the bus home.

Ah Kong had no basic knowledge about politics. At home, he was not familiar with Red Shirt television. He never watched it. His vision was not very good, so he did not read the newspaper.  All he did was take care of his grandchildren; this took up all of his time. This meant that when I and others talked about politics, Ah Kong listened carefully and often asked us questions.

Of interest, Ah Kong’s normal actions and what he was accused of doing – insulting the monarchy – were in serious conflict. For example, he raised his hands to wai the photograph of the king in Zone 8 every time he passed it.  I am certain that he did so sincerely. Ah Kong also told me that he took his grandchildren to sign their names to wish the king well at Siriraj Hospital many times. Whenever he went shopping with his grandchildren and saw a table where one could sign to wish the king well, he and they did so. Every time. I could not believe that this old man was accused of being disloyal to the monarchy.

Anyone who met Ah Kong knew that he was a humble person. He always smiled, was quick to wai, and, certainly, was weepy. My personal take on this is that Ah Kong was a very emotionally fragile person. This was especially true during the periods of his imprisonment. He displayed his fragility clearly.  Between the first period [during which the case was being investigated] when Ah Kong was brought in and was granted bail and released, and  the second time  when he returned to the prison [after he was charged and then convicted], it was very different for him in terms of his morale.  It was fortunate that there were many people around to encourage him to keep going.  Ah Kong was loved and cared for by people detained in Red Shirt cases and by other detainees as well. In truth, I told Ah Kong that he was like an exhausted battery. When he was downcast and desponded, we would talk and give him encouragement. He would start smiling again. He would raise his fist in “struggle” once again. But then, not even an hour would pass and he would be sad again. We had to charge him again. Continually. Urge him on, help him. We thought of him as family, just like our real family. So we looked after him.

Ah Kong could endure in prison purely by encouragement. His primary source of courage was Aunty Oo. We were the secondary support, his friends in the same Zone and the masses who stopped by to offer support. I cannot bear to think about the 4 days and 4 nights that Ah Kong was in the Prison Hospital without any encouragement. Without support, how much suffering could Ah Kong withstand? Is it possible that one cause of his sudden death was that he was deprived of support ….

The unjust actions of prison officials who said that they “loved the king”

I thought again and again about whether or not it was a good idea for me to write this. Finally, I decided that I had to write it. Because it is the truth of what happened to Ah Kong.  From the broad overtures in the mainstream media of the accusation that the Red Shirts wanted to topple the monarchy to the concerted determination of some prison officials to persecute them, many of those accused in lèse majesté cases shared the same fate. This shared fate was to be threatened, physically and mentally attacked, and to suffer other kinds of persecution. Elderly men, like “Ah Kong,” were not exempt. Suriyan (6) and I were among the abused as had been reported in the alternative press. My sense is that it is imperative that people outside the prison  know how Ah Kong was treated and what happened. (I take responsibility for every word I have written. I am ready for it to be examined – ready for it to be validated.)

But before going further, I have to note that at present, Zone 8 is the best zone in the prison. The difference from before is the difference between the sky and an abyss. The difference is because there was a change in the head of the Zone. The new head is a development worker who is impartial. He acts more justly than the person whose actions towards Ah Kong I explain in the account below.

Ah Kong was classified and placed in Zone 8. When Ah Kong arrived, Suriyan and I had already been physically attacked by those in the old administration. If those accused in lèse majesté and Red Shirt cases were placed in Zone 8, then they were kept in place by being slapped in the face and punched by other prisoners who were called to come do so. They were showered with obscenity and accused of being the people who burned the city. But Ah Kong was lucky.  As an old person, he was granted an exception. He was not physically harmed. Instead, he was persecuted by being forced to work hard.

Given that Ah Kong was an elderly man, humanity and compassion should have meant that he received an exemption not to perform the same work as a young man, as if they were the same. But Ah Kong was a person who was intentionally selected to be in Zone 8 by its head (who today has been moved to administer the holding cells under the Criminal Court at Ratchada).
The first day that he arrived, Ah Kong was sent to be in the paper cup-making unit and received the usual amount immediately. It was 5 kilos of paper per day, or 2500 cups. Ah Kong definitely could not do it. But he was forced to do it. Other prisoners could not stand it, and took some of his work to do. Each person took a little bit until it was finished. Ah Kong worked like this the entire time until he was released on bail the first time.

Ah Kong returned into the prison for a second time. But this time, the head of the zone was afraid to take on any more 112 cases. Ah Kong was assigned to Zone 3, to separate him from me.  But then, due to help from someone high-up, Khun Anon helped to arrange for Ah Kong to be transferred to Zone 8 with me again. The head of the zone was very displeased. Ah Kong was again sent to make paper cups. It was like the first time. Other prisoners helped Ah Kong as before. They helped him because they could not bear to see him persecuted by the head of the zone. Finally, with help from someone high-up, there was an order to immediately transfer Ah Kong to work in the library. He did not have to do anything there. The head of the zone lost a lot of face, because he was no longer able to do whatever he pleased to Red Shirt people.

Abhisit’s secretary, the judges, and the police who arrested him should be held responsible for the death of Ah Kong. The head warder in Zone 8 (who is not the current one) should be held culpable as well.

Finally, I mourn the loss of my friend of a different age. I loved and cared greatly for him. He was the same as an actual member of my family. It is certain that his death was not in vain. I want for Ah Kong, or old uncle as I called him, not to worry about me and his other friends. We will look after Aunty Oo and your grandchildren, who were beloved by you, so that they will have happiness. If there really is a next life, then let us return to meet one another again …I love you, uncle!! May you rest well and not worry about anything anymore.

Notes:

(1)    P’Somyos refers to Somyos Prueksakasemsuk, currently on trial for alleged violations of Article 112.
(2)    Khun Anon refers to Anon Numpa, the lawyer-poet of Ratsadornprasong Legal Institute and counsel for Ah Kong, Tanthawut, and many other Red Shirt and lèse majesté cases.
(3)    Ajarn Waan refers to Suda Rangkupan, lecturer in the Faculty of Arts at Chulalongkorn University and an advocate for the rights of political prisoners
(4)    Vitamilk is fortified soymilk.
(5)    “Slim” is a category of political stance that while neither red nor yellow, is explicitly and confidently unconcerned with democracy. It is a stance which claims to not be a political stance – yet in trying to make that assertion in a very politicized time, it precisely fails to succeed in that claim.
(6)    Suriyan refers to Suriyan Kokpuey, who is currently serving a sentence in Bangkok Remand Prison for a February 2011 conviction under Article 112.

Source: เปิดจดหมายจากเรือนจำลำดับเหตุการณ์การจากไปของอากงในวาระครบรอบ ๑ เดือน and
เปิดจดหมายนักโทษผู้ใกล้ชิด “อากง” ลำดับการจากไป ในวาระครบ 1 เดือน 

Thanks to Tyrell for her

Thanks to Tyrell for her translation.

At some point, at some unguarded moment, the Royalist Thai 'elite' are going to encounter themselves in the mirror and be aghast at just who it is they really are. With all their self-serving, 'more moral than thou' cosmetic as unapplied as their two-inches of morning pancake, they will behold their own death masks staring back at them, and in that instant they will be as revolted by their own tawdry and vicious posturing as is the rest of the world, on a daily basis.

And then they will be prompted either to atone ... or to murder all the innocents in Thailand for standing, smiling in their natural goodness, in charming contrast to their own putrescence.

I'm afraid they'll chose the latter course. That they'll never 'forgive' the Thai people for being such a cheerful counterpoint to their very own vile and inbred, 'elite' perversity.

Yes, Tyrell, it is a

Yes, Tyrell, it is a devastating history but it's great that you have translated it and it's great that Khun Thantawut has had the courage and concern for justice to place it in the historical record.

Thank you both.

I wish AI HERE MARK and his

I wish AI HERE MARK and his secretary read this.

> "... the nearly two year

> "... the nearly two year period Ah Kong spent behind bars"

You might want to check your facts, Tyrell.

I checked them. Took less

I checked them. Took less than two minutes.

You could have checked them yourself Mr Wright, seems to me Tyrell's right and Jon's Wrong.

Ampol Tangnopakul

Ampol Tangnopakul was arrested by Crime Suppression Division police on 3 August 2010 ... Kept in prison until his court appearance on 18 January 20111, Ampol was detained without bail after being indicted for lese majeste ... the court dismissed a bail request, saying that the alleged crimes against the monarchy were severe and he might abscond ... By late January, Ampol had been denied bail three times and remained in jail ... On 21 March 2011, the Criminal Court again denied bail for Ampol. His case is scheduled for late September. He was detained without bail from 18 January 2011, and reportedly suffering from mouth cancer ... Ampol’s trial began on 23 September 2011. He was convicted in late November 2011 and sentenced to 20 years in jail ... his lawyer’s appealed for bail during the time that the appeal case is being prepared and getting ready to be heard, and despite guarantees from 7 academics and 2 million in bail offered, the court rejected the application on 22 February 2012 ... As his appeal dragged on and on, by early April 2012, Ampol decided to withdraw it, plead guilty and seek a royal pardon, “citing his old age and health problems as the reason.” ... He died on 8 May 2012 ...

Duration calculation results

From and including: Tuesday, August 3, 2010
To, but not including : Tuesday, May 8, 2012

It is 644 days from the start date to the end date, but not including the end date

Or 1 year, 9 months, 5 days excluding the end date

> "Ampol Tangnopakul was

> "Ampol Tangnopakul was arrested by Crime Suppression Division police on 3 August 2010 ... Kept in prison until his court appearance on 18 January 20111"

Wrong for starters ... In future, spend a bit more than two minutes and do not trot out any links from thaipoliticalprisoners.wordpress.com

Excuse the duplicate posts.

Excuse the duplicate posts. Hopefully a moderator can clear up.

Amphon was kept in jail for

Amphon was kept in jail for about 2 months after his first arrest. He was then bailed to reappear in court in January 2011. He was kept in jail from then until his death.

That's about 19 months. I am not sure that the difference between 19 months and almost 2 years makes much difference to a man who was kept in a jail until he died.

PPT is an excellent source of limited information on lese majeste prisoners in Thailand. I know of no other source that tries to keep up with this material, and as they are using publicly available material they are sure to have some errors. Before they came along, all information was scattered and, hence, largely forgotten.

Their post on Amphon was not clear on how long he was in jail, but the first media report they have, at the very bottom of their page on him, is clearer. Naturally, it is Prachatai.

I have Amphon's total time

I have Amphon's total time behind bars at about a year and a half. He was actually sentenced, the court would say convicted, in November ... that puts him in prison pre-verdict about a year and post-verdict about six months.

Standard Thai judicial procedure, sentence first - verdict afterward, wherein the victim is held in prison 'pending trial' until he/she pleads guilty, hoping for a reduction in sentence and - oh please, oh please - a pardon. Or just sentenced to a couple of decades in prison if they insist they are innocent. No question of guilt. To be charged is to be guilty ... 94% conviction rate.

In Chiranuch's case see ...

“I can already make a verdict on this case based upon the information given by the public prosecutor.”

... and he had done, apparently. Two full years in advance of handing it down.

Jon, If you have an

Jon,

If you have an alternative version of the facts, I think it would be more helpful to readers to give what you think are the true facts of the situation, rather than engaging in snide little point scoring attacks on Tyrell and other posters.

Thailand: 61-year-old man

Thailand: 61-year-old man convicted of lèse majesté dies in prison

Mr. Tangnoppakhun, also known as Ah Kong (grandfather) and Uncle SMS, was arrested on 3 August 2010 and was shortly released on bail on 4 October 2010. After he was charged by court on 18 January 2011 he was rearrested and the judge rejected his application for bail. Subsequent applications for bail were all rejected. ... Mr. Tangnoppakhun had previously suffered from mouth cancer and was reportedly experiencing stomach pains for months before his death. He was admitted to a prison hospital on 4 May but was found dead on the morning of 8 May.

2 months, 1 day

From and including: Tuesday, August 3, 2010
To, but not including : Monday, October 4, 2010

It is 62 days from the start date to the end date, but not including the end date

Or 2 months, 1 day excluding the end date

1 year, 3 months, 20 days

From and including: Tuesday, January 18, 2011
To, but not including : Tuesday, May 8, 2012

It is 476 days from the start date to the end date, but not including the end date

Or 1 year, 3 months, 20 days excluding the end date

1 year 5 months 21 days. I'm sure it felt more like 5 years. And the man is dead now.

The salient facts of the case are that a man was, in my opinion, almost certainly framed for the 'crime' of sending 4 SMS messages to an audience of a single person, sentenced to 20 years in prison, denied medical treatment and abandoned to die alone, deprived even of the solace of his family in his last hours on earth. If you take the position that he was not framed, the fact remains that he was not proven guilty, was jailed for being unable to prove his innocence. If not framed then railroaded.

I'm sorry that I bothered with you at all, as your original posting really has no bearing on the facts of the case. You are a troll trying to distract attention from the real facts of the case which serve as in indictment of the Thai system of injustice, with your quibbling over unimportant details, and I was foolish enough to help you.

> "The salient facts of the

> "The salient facts of the case are ..., in my opinion ..."

Huh? You know the meaning of 'salient'?

> "If you take the position that he was not framed"

Who are you addressing?

> "your original posting really has no bearing on the facts of the case"

The facts of the case are not up for discussion.

> "quibbling over unimportant details"

Details are very important

> "I was foolish enough to help you"

No, you were just foolish. The post itself makes very clear that Ah Kong got bail. YOU were in effect quibbling with the fine article.

> "I'm sorry"

Of course

I know the meaning of salient

I know the meaning of salient Jon. It seems to me that JFL has indeed highlighted several of the salient aspects of the case. For me, the court's requirement for the defense to have to prove innocence rather than the prosecution having to prove guilt was striking. If you have a different view, perhaps you could express it.