The content in this page ("On probation with the state: a record" by Duangjai Puangkaew) is not produced by Prachatai staff. Prachatai merely provides a platform, and the opinions stated here do not necessarily reflect those of Prachatai.

On probation with the state: a record

I am not your trained animal.
 
I decided to write a record. With a perhaps unavoidable vulnerability, I write because I want to tell the outside world that each of us has a collar, although the lengths of our leashes vary. We become aware of the collars once we walk off the path mandated by those who force us to wear them. 
 
Freedom … when we have lost it, then we feel its presence. When you are jerked and pulled, a sharp tug on the collar forces you to return to the path.
 
I was summoned to report myself and detained for two days in June. Since then I have been contacted six times by military officials: the sixth time was yesterday.
 
The first time: Officials from the unit that detained me called after my release for mundane questioning and conversation. 
 
The second time:  Around 2 months ago, a military intelligence officer with the rank of major from the King’s Guard, 1st Cavalry Division, called me. The content of the conversation was to warn, intimidate, caution, and interrogate me. He asked me, “You have not changed your number? You still live in the same place? You are forbidden to engage in political activities, you know? You cannot leave the area or travel abroad, right? If you go anywhere, you have to tell us and ask permission, too.” This is what it was like.
 
And, in the past week, the third and fourth calls have come.
 
I was contacted by a military intelligence officer with the rank of sergeant major from the King’s Guard, 2nd Cavalry Division (as he introduced himself). His role is to monitor, follow, and track different movements which may affect security. His responsibility includes the area in which my house is located … He contacted me for a meeting at my house. I avoided him. I felt that I had been tormented enough, and that there was no need for more. I took account of the duties in my life, and proposed to meet at a shopping center away from my house. That was an appropriate and public place for discussion, rather than meeting in the private space of my house… he refused.
 
Then, this past Sunday morning, I received a fifth telephone call. He asked me where I was and asked about the location of my house. I told him that he would not find anyone if he went there. I was outside the house and not returning home. He said that it did not matter. He would stop by and question my neighbors. 
 
Then the sixth call came. He informed me that he was near my house. At that time, I was driving home. I contacted a close senior friend and Anon Numpa [lawyer with the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights] and made a plan to meet them on the way. We would go to the house together. I decided to confront him … but when I arrived home, I did not see anyone. I did not know what he wanted, so we decided that we should go meet him to discuss and put an end to this. I tried to get back in touch with him so that we could make an appointment to meet. But his phone was off. He was unreachable... I waited until he called me back and then we made an appointment to meet in a place not too far from my house.
 
I hesitated and was uncertain that he was really a soldier when we first met. He came by himself and his plainclothes appearance was unlike that of a soldier. I began by asking why he wanted to meet me. I let him know that I felt as though I was being threatened. I am not able to live my life normally in this kind of situation. Even though he tried to act as though it was nothing, in truth… if this situation did not exist, I would be able to use my days off freely. I would not have to worry about where strangers or state officials would show up. Would they come to find me at home? Would they alarm my neighbors and family? And I would not have to go meet with him.
 
He informed me that we were meeting today because he wanted to have a relaxed conversation and create understanding with me … he wanted to ask for cooperation to cease any political movement and so help him, and cease going out to join with students in their opposition or symbolic activities. I would like you to listen to this part of the conversation.
 
*
 
Him:  I want you to meet me halfway. Cease your movement activities. We are only asking for a year. Then there will be elections. After that, whoever you want to elect, we can talk about it then.
 
Me: You want one year for what? How can you be certain that there will actually be elections within a year? And during this year, what will you people do?
 
Him: In that year, we will work to wipe out all corruption and graft. Right now, we are working on it. We are asking for a little bit more time.
 
Me: Wipe out corruption? Purge the old group in order to clear the way for the new group, is that it? And are you going to eliminate corruption within the military too? Or are you only purging the police?
 
Him: We are purging all of the corruption in the military. We are eliminating it all. Watch the news. At the level of the generals, all [the corrupt ones] are gone. Now, the old group of politicians will be cleared away. New-blood politicians will rise in their place.
 
Me: New blood politicians like Abhisit? Don’t talk as if it is like this and like that. The political system has its own time. The political system has a cycle. When it comes to a particular point, it will go on according to its own cycle. No one has to get involved. Have you not thought about it? Have you not thought that [this situation] is due to the military? If you people had not come, we may not have yearned for those politicians to this degree. If you had allowed the cycle to proceed, and not raised your hands to interfere, not come to manage it, not proposed that you could do it better, then it might not be this bad. Our politics might have been able to advance in a better direction. 
 
Significantly, I want you to understand that if we were not suppressed, if we were not threatened, we might not have come out in opposition and protest. It’s like releasing gas [into the air]. Will you wait for it to explode or will you allow it to slowly lessen and dissipate?
 
Let me ask … is this fair to us? Think about if it was you. We have the right to elect our people. You people came to flip the board over. You said that they were bad and no longer wanted… How can we be certain that if there is a next time and we have elections that you will not become dissatisfied and come out for another round?
 
Him: I will put this to the unit. I cannot say. But I will take your opinion for consideration.
 
Me: To put it simply, you people think you will come out to deal with the problems. Have you ever thought about whether you are neutral enough?  Have you treated us equally and fairly? How come the majority of those on the list of those who have been summoned are red shirts? Did you summon and treat the members of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) in the same way?
 
Him: We summoned them. They were summoned. I went to meet with Khun …. (a former local Pheu Thai MP). I informed him that this was a dangerous and vulnerable period and asked for cooperation. I asked him to cease his movement and cease taking action — forgo it. He cooperated well. There were no problems.
 
Me: Before you went to ask for his cooperation, did you know that another unit had already gone to raid and search his house unannounced? You people did this to him, and then you later say that you went to ask for cooperation? Let me ask you, truly, do you know how we have been treated? This is what it is: you summon us to talk, and it isn’t nothing at all for us. But you yourself have to understand how we have been treated. Let me ask you, truly, did you know that when my name was read out on television and I was summoned to report myself, that I was nearly fired from my job? My nephew’s classmates at school wrote insults on his homework notebook —  simply because he has the same family name as I. Soldiers in other units treat us as though we are not human. They accuse us of being hired red shirts. They look down on us as different. Arriving at today [and our meeting]: you asked me to meet you halfway. What other half do I have to give?
 
Him: I did not know about this at all. There are many units of soldiers. My only role is to look after this area. I don’t know what other units do and I cannot control them.
 
Me: There you go. Even though you are also a soldier. You people claim to not be able to look after each after … is this fair to us? To put it simply, they are not fair to you either. Other military units treat us poorly, but when you came face-to-face with us, we reproach you. From this alone, you can know whether or not your unit is fair to you.
 
Me: Can I ask you something? Do you also look after the older person who works at Charoen Krung Pracharak Hospital?
 
Him: Panya? Who is a twin, right? Yes, I have to look after this person. 
 
Me: And do you know, do you know that in truth he was taken only because they wanted his twin? He was beaten up and physically assaulted. Did you know this?
 
Him: I did not know about this ….
 
Me: And you still think you want us to meet you halfway …. the only fish who cannot swim upstream are those who are dead…
 
Him: I can only ask for your cooperation. I already know that you do activities in other places, not here. But you still fall within my area of responsibility. There are several other people with whom I need to speak.
 
Me: How many people do you track in total?
 
Him: Four people (he said their names and information) … I don’t know what day you are free. I will call all four people to come to eat together.
 
Me: Why do I have to go?
 
Him: We will sit together, become acquainted and create understanding. We will chat, eat normally. It’s nothing.
 
Me: Food cannot be delicious when eaten with state officials. 
 
Him: I think we should get to know each other. 
 
Me: If the situation was normal, we wouldn’t have to know each other at all …
 
Him: I want you to know that it’s not only you for whom it is terrible. Me too. I have met with much worse things than you have. (He stares into my eyes as if to give me a message and tries to communicate with his eyes that are becoming red // If I viewed this through a positive lens, I would surmise that he did not feel wholehearted about his work, at all. Perhaps it is the same with many other officials, who have the same political attitudes [as us] and have to do things unwillingly.)
 
Me: Every person has freedom in her heart. It depends on if she is aware of its presence, and whether or not she will think to preserve it …
 
*
 
We walked out. I felt a pang of contrition in my heart. Even though I had been threatened and my freedom intruded upon, I was still luckier than many other people. This official was friendlier [than others] and did not come in a uniform. I looked upon him with pity, too, because he did not think he would meet two of my male friends along with me. He looked tense and worried during the whole conversation. It was clearly different than when we spoke on the telephone.
 
Sometimes, the word “duty” may be full of pride and sacrifice. But at a time like this in this country, the word “duty” may be one of shame and unease.
 
I myself have duties I must perform as a citizen of the state. But I have the right for my dignity and freedom to be respected as well.
 
Therefore, it is not necessary for me to respond to the jerk on my collar… because I am a citizen, I am a person of this polity, like other people … I am not the “trained animal” that you people understand me to be.
 
 
Translated by Tyrell Haberkorn.
 

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