Contrary to what the junta has tried to claim, that all detainees were treated very well while in their custody, other than being deprived of their freedom, the first account of degrading treatment of anti-coup protesters by the military has been revealed.
Unlike other ‘well-treated’ detainees, they are not renowned academics or activists. They were not summoned and the arrests had no media presence. They are men in their twenties from the North East who came to Bangkok for the examinations at an open university in Bangkok. Their names and affiliations are not revealed out of concern for their safety.
At 9.40 pm one night, around two weeks after the coup, the military arrested a male student, Mr A, at the campus. Upon arrest, Mr A stood still with no intention to flee, but the military officer held him by the neck, kicked his knee joint and then hit him in the back with an Uzi submachine gun. Mr A fell to the ground. The military searched and found 16 6-by-3 inches stickers read "No Coup, No Coup" and "Let the People Decide," which had appeared on electricity posts around the campus in the past few days.
Two friends who rushed to the scene were also arrested even though the military officers searched them and found no stickers.
Mr A told the military that he did not own the stickers and that he had found them unattended. The military then took him to the place where he claimed to have found the stickers. The military later took them to their residences and searched for illegal objects. At the dorm of one detainee, the military found and took photos of a t-shirt with messages supporting Nitirat, a sticker supporting the amendment of the lèse majesté law and books on the Russian Revolution.
Later the military took them to a nearby police station where the military and the police interrogated them separately in a rather dark room with no windows. The focus of the interrogation was who hired them, how much they were paid, and what their political ideology was. The military officers spoke very impolitely, using ‘ku’ and ‘mueng’ (disrespectful words for ‘I’ and ‘you’) with the detainees.
“They asked me ‘Who incited you? University lecturers? These lecturers are trouble makers.’ They then asked me which lecturers I study with. I said I rarely attended class and had just finished my job as a sugar cane carrier in the provinces and came to Bangkok for the examinations. The military then checked the examination schedule to see if I was lying,” one of them told Prachatai.
The interrogation lasted many hours. They were allowed to sleep for only a few hours before the police woke them up before 6 am for further interrogation.
Since their arrest, they had been deprived of food and water. At 9 am, they were allowed to drink water and have breakfast.
Mr A later confessed that they got the stickers from another friend. The police then raided the dorm and arrested Mr B.
Mr B confessed that he himself produced 1,000 stickers.
The police then forwarded the case to the military. The four were interrogated again by the military. The focus of the interrogation was who masterminded them, who paid them to distribute the stickers and their political ideology.
At around 7 pm, the military put them in an old unlicensed van with no plates and blindfolded them.
In the van, the military hinted about having them killed.
“The soldiers told us to fall asleep. Told us to think of our moms and dads,” one of them said. “They scared us while we were blindfolded. They instructed another soldier on the phone to prepare four dishes of rice, lotus flowers and holy threads and to dig four holes.”
In Thailand, a rice dish is an offering for a spirit while the holy threads are used to fasten a lotus flower to a corpse’s hands before burial/cremation.
At a temporary military camp they were interrogated again.
“They asked me if we knew what system of government existed before 1932. I replied that it was an absolute monarchy. The soldier said “Yes, absolute monarchy is the answer. When Thailand is democratic, there’s chaos and struggle. That’s why we have to take over.”
The interrogator also asked if Sombat Boonngam-anong, a prominent anti-coup red-shirt activist, was behind them.
After the interrogation, they were allowed to rest. “The soldier told us if we couldn’t sleep, we should use a chair and rope. “String the rope up so that you’ll have a nice sleep.”
The next morning, another military officer with higher rank came to talk to them. They said this officer spoke to them nicely, before taking them to a police station to sign a release agreement that they will have to stop all political activity. They were released around noon.
“The scariest moment was when I was blindfolded in the van because I did not know where I was being taken. It felt like years, but actually it was not far away. When we were allowed to sleep at the camp, I couldn’t sleep because I was afraid that I would be taken to be beaten up. We were not allowed to contact anyone. Our mobile phones were confiscated,” said Mr A.