Next week, the witness hearings in the case of Yutthapoom (last name withheld) will begin in the Criminal Court on Ratchadaphisek Road in Bangkok. Yutthapoom was accused of violating Article 112 while watching television and writing an insulting message on a CD. What makes his case different from many others that have passed through the courts in the years since the 2006 coup is that the alleged criminal acts took place in the private space of his home. The person who filed the complaint against Yutthapoom was his older brother. As in nearly all other cases of alleged violations under Article 112, Yutthapoom has been denied bail since being formally charged. In total, by the time hearings begin in his case next week, he will have been behind bars for 333 days of pretrial detention. Full details about the case can be read on iLaw in English here and in Thai here.
The short story below, based on a true story of an older brother who files a complaint against his younger brother and published in Thai
several months ago by Prachatai, was written by Lao Sun. Sometimes fact is as strange as fiction.
Incident on the Fourth Floor (Or, the case of the older brother who accused his younger brother)
By Lao Sun
Note: This short story from the prison cells is based on a true story of a bizarre case in which a younger brother had a report of grave state crimes filed against him by his own older brother. The story is about one of the steps before the younger brother’s case was sent to the court by the prosecutor. It's a tale of events that no one could have foreseen.
“Oy ... Bangkok is blisteringly hot!" an elderly woman says to her children. She continues grumbling in the Isaan [northeastern --trans.] language as she climbs out of the car and is faced with the sweltering air of the capital. She has not visited the city for a long time. Her daughter and younger son support her as she walks unsteadily. They escape the sun under the overhang of a nearby government building close to the parking lot. They have an appointment in this building today.
“Pom has not arrived yet?” the mother asks her daughter as they walked together.
“I have not seen any sign of him, Mother. I wonder if perhaps he has gone upstairs already,” her daughter answers.
The time of the meeting arrives. After standing waiting for his older brother for a long time, the younger brother says, “Let’s go, Mother, it’s better to go. We do not have to wait for him, we’ll be late.”
The trio walks into the building. The atmosphere is busy and they are surrounded by many people who have also come to contact the government. They walk into the elevator and the younger son pushes the button without delay. Four. The fourth floor of this building is their terminal point.
Grandmother Sa is a native-born northeasterner from Huay Thap Than sub-district of Sisaket province. She works as a rice farmer and gathers things from the forest to sell. Like the majority of farmers in this country, her life is one of hardship. Problems in her family mean that she raised three small children on her own. Once her children grew up, she became more comfortable. Today, she lives with her daughter, her oldest child, who works and is raising her family in Sisaket. Her two sons came to work in Bangkok many years ago. Her two sons do not get along with one another and often have problems. This is not the first time that she has had to be the intermediary to arbitrate and foster understanding between the two. This time looks graver than other times, though, because it is not as simple as in the past. This time their disagreement may cause her younger son -- the mainstay of the family -- to go to prison. Her heart is broken and full of anguish. If her child had a problem with someone else, perhaps she would not be so stricken. But this, they are brothers, what is this? They grew up together. Why do they loathe one another so much that it has come to his degree? No matter who is right and who is wrong, she is the one who will be full of disappointment in the end.
Before it came to this day, she and her daughter, who is the oldest in the family, implored and tried to reconcile with the older son many times. She has come here today to use a state official as the intermediary to arbitrate between people in her family. Success today is her only hope, her only hope for her child not to be prosecuted.
At the sound of a door opening, all three turn around and raise their hands to formally wai the person who walked into the room. A middle-aged woman with a kind-hearted demeanor greets them informally. She tells them that the older brother of the family had called to tell her that it was inconvenient for him to come today.
And then an astonishing conversation began.
“How is it that it came to this? What did you argue about? Tell me about it. Is it an issue of politics? You two brothers are different colors, right?” The state official asks these questions of Pong, the younger son whose older brother filed a legal complaint against him.
“Not about politics at all. I am a person without a color. Whatever color, I accept them all. We simply argued about the dog,” Pong answers.
“And how is it that you argued such that your older brother could do this?” the state official continues her questions.
“We have fought many times in the past. He tries to pick fights with me. He has made up stories and told the police to arrest me several times already. But he does not succeed. I have evidence of reports he has made. It’s the same this time, but he has upped the ante.”
“I really want to know, tell me straight up: Are you or are you not a Red Shirt?” the state official asks.
“I am definitely not a Red Shirt. But we chose Pheu Thai Party. Everyone in the house voted for the party.”
“And your older brother, is he a Yellow Shirt?” The state official probes further.
“He was red before. But once he came to take action against me, he became yellow. He liked Thaksin a whole lot. He once said that Thaksin was the best prime minister in the world. He was red through-and-through.”
“You said your older brother changed and became yellow. How did you know this?”
“A friend told me that he went to the PAD [People’s Alliance for Democracy] demonstrations. He asked to go up on stage. But he did not go up to speak, no, he went to promote his music CD. Everything my older brother does is for his own profit.”
“And how do you know what kind of person Thaksin is?”
“I don’t know really. I already said that I am not a Red Shirt.”
“Okay, okay (she cuts him off). So the argument was not a Red Shirt-Yellow Shirt one, right? Now, let’s get right to the issue. You said an indecent word. What is it that you said?
“Oy, I did not say it. I don’t know about this matter, really. What indecent word? I don’t know anything about this.”
The state official calls the older brother on the telephone right away, “Hello. I am with your mother, your older sister, and your younger brother. Tell me what word your younger brother said, the indecent word.” While listening to the answer, she nods knowingly. Before she hangs up the phone, she makes a guttural sound of assent.
“Your older brother said that while you were watching Red Shirt television, you saw news about the king and you said xxxxx, right? How could you say it? Are you or are you not Thai?” the anger in her voice was clear.
“Your older brother said to tell you that people like you must be taught a lesson. I agree with him,” says the state official.
The atmosphere in the room is suddenly tense. Tears well up in Grandmother Sa’s eyes as though is going to cry. The older sister is shocked.
“This, Mother, you must know which of your children has done something wrong. You must tell the truth. This will help clear the matter up. If he did it, then say so, then I can assist you,” the state official continues to push.
“My child could not do that, no way. And I do not believe that he did. I see him pay respect [to the king] daily. Everyone in my family cherishes him as much as they do their own lives. It’s simply not possible that he would do this. His older brother reported him for arrest because they argued. They have problems with each other and fight over and over. I keep telling Pong to move out of the house. But he says he can put up with it, save a lump of money and then move out. Truly, Pong, he never did anything to his older brother. But it is the older brother who has done this to his younger brother. I am not lying one bit. I am the mother of both, I know my children well,” Grandmother Sa asks for sympathy for her son.
“Like this, Mother, you are biased. You speak as if you are completely on your younger son’s side.”
“I am not at all biased. I love all of my children equally. Everyone loves his or her children. I warned Pong to be careful because I know his brother’s disposition well. I am afraid that one day, they will fight and really get into it. Pom will take ya ba [methamphetamine -- trans.]. He could actually do this,” Grandmother Sa says.
The state official’s voice is loud when she says, “Now. The issue of what you wrote on the CD. It’s not at all unimportant. But the matter of the indecent word, you admit that you said it, right? If you said it, admit it directly, it will help resolve things.”
“I already said that I did not said it. How can I then admit it?” Pong replies.
“You have to tell the truth. Some things are sacred. A real man who dares to act must also dare to admit it.”
“I spoke the truth when I said I did not do it. Really, I did not say it.”
“I do not believe you, at all. Your older brother, he’s a good person. He is worthy of much praise, he protects the institution [of the monarchy], to the degree that when his real, actual brother does wrong, he still dares to report it. He is a really very good person.”
“It’s not at all true. Good people, they do not take, they do not snatch their younger sibling’s business.”
“Then why did he report you for arrest to us, huh?”
“I don’t know, I can’t answer. He has taken everything already. He took my company and left me with a large debt. What more will he take?” Pong responds.
“You, it’s inappropriate to criticize your own older brother.”
“I have never encountered anything like this. I have seen a younger sibling do it to an older sibling, but this, an older sibling doing it to their younger sibling?”
“If the younger sibling is not truly bad, there is no older sibling anywhere who would do this. My younger brother was the same. But we do not need to speak about him, because he has already been shot and killed,” the state official tries to raise an example from her own life, in order to point out that her younger brother was also terrible.
While they are speaking, the sound of the official’s telephone grows louder. She gets up and goes outside to speak for about 10 minutes. She comes back in with further questions, “Do you know what Thaksin did to damage our country?”
“I don’t know at all. I already said that I am not interested in politics.”
“And have you or have you not ever joined the demonstrations of the Red Shirts?”
“Never. Not even once.”
“I don’t believe you, at all. Tell it to me straight, when and where did you join the protests,” the state official’s voice is full of feeling as she shouts.
“I have only ever passed by the Red Shirt demonstrations. And only one time, but I did not intend to go to the demonstration. I passed by because it was close to home. My house is in Laksi and the demonstration was at Wat Phaikhiew. That older brother of mine told me to stop by to buy a red shirt, he told me to buy an emblem of the Red Shirts to use in business. For ordinary people like me, people who work for a living, people who work hard, I have to have emblems of both the red and the yellow sides. When I have a customer who is a Yellow Shirt, I wrap myself in yellow. I put on a yellow shirt and business goes smoothly. When I encounter a Red Shirt customer, I do the same thing. It gets results, business is good.”
The state official displays her displeasure by holding up a folder and banging it on the table.
“You are making excuses! You did it, so say that you did. You are probably enough of a man. Look, what your brother accused you of doing, how could you do it? These Red Shirts, why are they in Thailand? Why don’t they move to Cambodia? It would be the end of the matter. It’s terrible, really terrible,” the state official’s face turns red with anger.
Everyone in the room is quiet. All that can be heard is the whir of the air-conditioner. No one shifts or makes any sound that might further irritate the state official.
“All right. Okay. Come listen to the order next month. Contact us about it, it’s fine if your older sister calls.”
And the lengthy conversation ended with only this. It was an ending that caused doubts about whether this was mediation, or incitement to send Pong to prison.
A few months later, Pong was called to the court once again to be indicted with an accusation related to state security. At first, he and his family were confident that they would find that he had done not anything wrong. Even if he was actually prosecuted, he would probably receive bail, because he always said that he would fight the case. He never considered fleeing.
But, it came to pass that he lost his freedom as a result of the trip to the court that day. He was never granted bail. Pong was behind bars in prison from that day forward.