112 Banpodj Network: Who is Banpodj?

“Banpodj” is behind a political podcast programme which is very influential among red shirts. To arrest him, the Thai authorities arrested 16 others who were accused of being part of a “Banpodj Network,” an international criminal organization intent on discrediting the Thai monarchy. This report introduces you to Banpodj in a way different from the police story.  
 
Hassadin U., 64, was arrested on 10 February. The police identified him as “DJ Banpodj,” the political podcast programme host who is famous and influential among the anti-establishment red shirts. During the police press conference, Banpodj arrogantly told the media and NGOs that he wanted no sympathy and he was not a victim. 
 
Before Hassadin was arrested, six others, including his wife, were arrested. 
 
Before Hassadin’s arrest, the ultra-royalist T-News online news website accused Dr Tanet Charoenmuang, former professor political science and public administration at Chiang Mai University and former adviser to the Minister of Education under the Pheu Thai Party administration, of being Banpodj, giving the reason that Tanet’s voice is similar to Banpodj’s doctored voice.  
 
No one really knew who Banpodj was. The available information before the arrest indicated that since 2009 Banpodj had produced voice clips running about an hour analysing Thai politics from a ‘historical’ perspective. He was an unsuccessful businessman who profoundly admired former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a divisive figure in Thailand. 
 
 
Two voice clips from Banpodj were released each week on the Mediafire file sharing website. 
 
Academics and red-leaning intellectuals harshly criticized and rejected Banpodj’s analysis, which is full of conspiracies and anecdotes. Judging from the clips, his English seems to be very good, but he also used vulgar language like the uneducated. In several clips, he frankly discussed the role of the monarchy in Thai politics, relations between the US and the Thai Army, etc. 
 
Although denounced by academics and intellectuals, he gained increasing popularity among the grass root and ordinary red shirts. He later became a “guru” on traditional medicine. One of the most popular Banpodj clips discusses the benefits of lemon soda in reducing the risk of cancer. This clip has had more than one million hits, while his political clips may have only thousands or tens of thousands. Some of his fans told Prachatai that although they first knew Banpodj from his political clips, they later became more interested in the clips on Thai herbs, fermented eggs and vinegar, and skipped political clips. 
 
On the succession, Banpodj showed immense support for Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. The rise to the throne of the Crown Prince is a chance to reset Thai politics at zero and the only chance of “peaceful transition”, he believed. 
 
He is now detained at Bangkok Remand Prison for producing more than 400 video clips deemed lèse majesté.  
Hassadin U. after the arrest (Photo courtesy of Matichon Online)
 
Because of Banpodj’s high popularity, he has been a big target of the Thai security agencies. This led to 16 people, including his wife, being arrested and facing Article 112 charges. They include a high-ranking official, a merchant, a tailor, a farmer, etc.  
 
These suspects are not political activists. Most of them merely shared Banpodj’s clips on their online platforms. Some were involved in selling herbal products to raise funds for Banpodj’s programme. 
 
Almost all of them told Prachatai that they have never met Banpodj face-to-face, but are merely fans of the programme. All of them face charges under Article 112 and were detained in prison with their bail requests repeatedly denied. Some of them pleaded guilty to the police, while some are prepared to fight the case in the military court. 
 
“They just liked to listen to some radio programmes. When they liked them, they shared them with others. Some aren’t interested and ignored it. Each person has their own judgement. But I didn’t realize it would be this serious,” the wife of one suspect said.  
 
Banpodj told Prachatai that he was born in a Sino-Thai family which owns a big textile business. He lived a luxurious life when he was young and graduated from England. He later went to study in France but did not earn any degree. When he approached middle-age, the textile business began to fail. He started his own businesses but always failed. His only daughter has supported him since. 
 
After the 2006 coup which overthrew Thaksin, Banpodj, who was very upset with the coup, first started to host his programme. He praised Thaksin highly as a brave and creative leader. He claimed to be very knowledgeable because he read a lot of first-hand historical documents in English and French. 
 
Banpodj told the police that he does not really know any of his fans. He only chats with some on private messaging sites. 
 
 
The police presents Banpodj Network map during press breifing on the arrests of the six on Monday (Photo courtesy of Kapook.com)
 
While the gathering of the “Banpodj Network” seems rather natural, Pol Maj Gen Siripong Timula, Director of the Technological Crime Suppression Division (TCSD), said the Banpodj Network is an international criminal organization, which was divided into three levels of operations: the leader who produced the clips; the operational level who shared the clips on social media; and supporters who helped Banpodj financially. 
 
Banpodj told Prachatai that he had debts of about 200,000 baht. He once received financial support of only 50,000 baht from an unknown source. He raised funds by receiving donations and selling Thai herbal products to support the Banpodj programmes. He received about 20,000-30,000 baht in donations each month. The smallest donation he has received is 75 baht. 
 
He suffers from hypertension.