The woman behind Somyos Pruksakasemsuk on 4th anniversary behind bar - Part I

30 April will be the fourth anniversary of the deprivation of freedom of the red-shirt political magazine editor, sentenced to 10 years in jail for articles he did not write. His wife has been very supportive and became active campaigner against Article 112

 

It has been four years since he was detained on 30 April 2011.

He probably be a few editors in the modern history who was arrested and detained for ten years for articles he did not wrote. The court of first instance found him guilty under Article 112 of the criminal Code, aka lese majeste law, for publishing two articles he did not wrote. The appeal court thought so too.

This is a part of the verdict from the Court of First Instance:

“Regarding the issue whether the defendant violated Article 112, the court views that the two articles under the column Kom Kwam Kid published on two issues of Voice of Taksin do not mention any person’s name, but were written with intention to draw a link with past events. When linking the past events [with the articles], we can infer that it means His Majesty the King. The content of the articles insulted, defamed and threatened the King. By publishing and distributing such articles, therefore, constitutes having an intention to defame, insult and threaten the monarchy and crimes under Article 112.”  

In the country where the picture of the King is hang in every courtroom, most of the lese majeste defendants choose to plead guilty to get only half of the sentence. If applying for a royal pardon, they may even get out of the jail faster.

He insists in his innocence and fighted the case to the supreme court. He is also the lese majeste prisoner who has the highest numbers of bail request -- 16. All of them rejected.

Before becoming an editor and political activist, he has a solid background in labor rights and union activism. Since his college years, he worked along side the laborers and unionists to call for good welfare and justice for the laborers. The 2006 coup was the turning point of his interest. Some of the unionist working with him once said “He wanted to steal the mass by ideologically working ทำงานความคิด with the red shirts.”

Amid the difficulty he has to endure in the past four years, his wife is the most important person who help him preserving his identity and ideology and replaced him in several roles outside the cell. Interestingly, despite more burdens upon her, she approves and agrees in what he did and decided. The decision that many others call it “วิ่งชนข้างฝา” (kinda stuborn).

Many others who faced similar fates around the same time might first want to fight the case, but all of them later decided to surrender to the Thai justice which is never on the side of freedom and liberty.  

A former inmate facing political-related charge of whom he took care of in prison said he was very impressive of the editor’s attitude and determination to prove his innocence.

“I couldn’t stand the conditions in prison. He told me that ‘You have to think that we’ve died. We’ve left this world. We then can cope with this,” said the former inmate.  

We are talking about Somyos Pruksakasemsuk.

One evening, Prachatai talked with Sukanya Pruksakasemsuk, wife of Somyos. Her name has become more and more well-known in the country and abroad due to her super active campaign against Article 112 and campaign to free her husband.

Sukanya showed Prachatai a thousand of postcards, tied up together. These postcards were sent from across the world to Somyos at Bangkok Remand Prison. Somyos could not read them all and did not have space to keep them. Sukanya collected them home a few months ago.  

She proudly told Prachatai that since the trial of Somyos’ case, there are tons of international human rights and worker rights organizations campaigning for freedom of Somyos. The workers related organizations include  Clean Cloth Campaign, Asia-Australia Worker Link (AWL) , Frist Union , The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), Trade Union  of Nepal, Indonesia, and Malaysia, International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM). The human rights organizations include The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Amnesty International (AI), Article 19, Human Rights Watch, The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) , EU, Pen international, Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ) , Freedom House, Reporter Without Border

Prachatai talked with Sukanya Pruksakasemsuk on the occasion of 2015 International Women’s Day.

Sukanya Pruksakasemsuk, wife of Somyos Pruksakasemsuk, who has become an active campaigner against Article 112 of the Criminal Code or lèse majesté law

Part I:

Several international organisations have been actively campaigning for Somyos and freedom of expression, but are there organisations in the country engaged in this, such as labour or media organisations? There has been some argument about whether he qualifies as a member of the media or not.  Do they consider Somyos’ case at all?

Actually, this [campaign] should have started at the domestic level first, but the situation is not like that, because in Thailand, organisations differ greatly in terms of ideas and they do not stick to [democratic and human rights] principles either. The imprisonment of people who produce books or media for example is not right at all on principle. Therefore, if every organisation stuck to its principles, they should have started movements or campaigns against this. However, in Thailand Somyos was prejudged as being linked to Thaksin and his magazine as being sponsored by Thaksin because its title was ‘Voice of Thaksin’. He therefore deserved to be prosecuted and punished.

This is mixing up individuals with principles. In fact, one’s rights should be undeniable no matter who exercises them and what is wrong should be wrong regardless of who the wrongdoers are.

Most Thai media don’t talk about the use of law to restrain freedom of expression. Since Somyos produced alternative media, which seemed to be affiliated with the red shirts or Thaksin, nearly all media organisations in Thailand chose to remain silent. Personnel from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) came to look into the matter after we issued a complaint to them since it’s their duty, but nothing more than that has been done. Other organisations are still unsure and hesitant about whether to support him or not. In the end, it turned out that if a person is linked to some issue, it doesn’t matter what happens to that person.                 

Is it because they are afraid that they would be classified as red shirt supporters or accused of being partial?

Possibly. As I see it, Thai society is currently very divided when it comes to [political] ideas. Principles are not being upheld and people are being labelled on an individual basis. Therefore, if Somyos participated in some political movements, coupled with the notion that he is a red shirt and used to be one of the second rank of United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) key leaders, he might have already been prejudged as a wrongdoer. His name was even listed in the anti-monarchy network diagram, so he was automatically linked to it.     

Could you tell us about Somyos’ long involvement in the labour movement and the point when he started to become involved in political activities?

Actually, he was a labour activist since he was a student. Three or four years after the 6th October 1976 (Thammasat University massacre), he went to work for the Union for Civil Liberty (UCL). At that time, workers who were heavily exploited and repressed were labourers around Om Noi and Om Yai municipalities (municipalities in Samut Sakhon and Nakhon Pathom provinces near Bangkok), so he went to work with them, organising labour law classes to teach about labour relations and how to negotiate.      

After that he founded another labour group with workers around the Rangsit area (an industrial area in Pathum Thani Province near Bangkok), which was called YCW (Young Christian Women). The group members were mostly female workers in clothing factories who formed a group to campaign over low wages and firings. In those days, around 1982 to 1987, a lot of factories started to lay off workers.       

After that, he established an office of his own, called the Information and Training Centre for Workers, which was an NGO. Then there was the Kader factory fire, which killed a lot of workers and where the factory owners refused to compensate the workers (the Kader factory fire happened on 10 May 1988, killing 188 people and seriously injuring around 500). At that time, he joined other workers’ organisations in a movement to call for reasonable worker compensation. After that, he shifted direction to work on health issues, focusing on the spread of HIV among workers.  

I think he became attracted to democratic principles, Marxism, and class struggle since he was a student. So when the political situation changed and there was an illegitimate coup d’état, which suppressed and violated the rights of the lower class, he came out to oppose it. In 1992, he also participated in activities against the military regime, but he didn’t do much at that time because he focused mostly on labour issues.    

After the 2006 coup, he participated in movements against the coup, but at the same time he was working on labour rights. He was writing articles for magazines and other publications about issues related to labour, such as low wage campaigns and appeals to the state and various factories. After he closed the Labour Information Centre, he engaged in activism through publications, founding his own publishing house to publish magazines about politics and society called ‘Siam Paradigm’. He was the editor and publisher of Siam Paradigm at the same time.

When the magazine was closed he became an editor for ‘Voice of Thaksin’. After it was banned by the authorities, it was renamed ‘Red Power’ and he was still editor of the magazine when he was arrested in 2011. Actually, prior to that, he once was arrested and taken to Adison Military Camp (a military base in the northeastern province of Saraburi) under the order of the CRES (Centre for Resolution of Emergency Situation, a special governmental organisation established to control and maintain security during the red shirt protests in Bangkok on April-May 2010).     

When he was arrested and taken to Adison Military Camp for 21 days in 2010, what was the situation like?

I was worried of course. I was working overseas at that time and had to go to Singapore every month. When he was arrested, I was in Singapore. He went to report to the police station the morning after the CRES issued an order against him and then he was arrested and briefly detained. After his release, he was still working for ‘Red Power’ and participating in political activities, such as making speeches and organising rallies. He was in the political group called ‘24 June Democracy Group’. It was an association of ordinary people who came together to organise seminars and rallies. He also organised group tours to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and would travel with the groups every two to three months. On the day when he was arrested under this charge [lèse majesté], he had organised a tour to Cambodia and told me that he would not be home for three to four days.              

How did you feel after you knew that he was charged with offenses under Article 112 of the Criminal Code [lèse majesté law]?

At that time, I didn’t think that it would be so serious because he had been doing political and social activities all his life. Actually, he was accused of criminal defamation before for defaming Gen Saprang Kalayanamitr (a retired officer of the Royal Thai Army who was one of the army commanders involved in coup 2006), so I thought that this kind of case would not be so severe. He is not a murderer after all. At worst, the court might demand a fine or hand down a month of jail term suspended or detain him at a military camp or something like that, but it wasn’t like that at all in reality.      

When did you feel that it would be serious?

When he was put into custody in prison after which I regularly visited him. At that time, a lot of people went to visit him. The visitors filled the visiting room nearly every day and nobody felt anything much because there was a lot of encouragement from all his supporters. This was until he was indicted by the prosecutor. At first, I wasn’t sure if he would be indicted or not and thought that he wouldn’t because he was the editor not the writer, but when the custody period was about to expire the prosecutor indicted him and he had to stay in jail without being able to come home.

A month after that, the court accepted the case, the provincial courts of four different provinces began the witness examination hearings under the Bangkok Criminal Court’s order and I had to travel to those courts to follow up the trial hearings. At that time, I thought that we might win the case and it would be dismissed.

On the day that the verdict was scheduled to be read, I still had hope that he would come home, but turned out that the court sentenced him to 10 years for offences under Article 112 (lèse majesté law). Added to the year’s suspended jail term for defaming Gen Saprang, it became 11 years.        

This means that while he was under custody during the investigative period, the period before indictment and the trials, Somyos had hope that he would win the case. However, when the verdict was read, did it change him and your family?

He must have felt sad and disappointed because he was very hopeful during the weeks before the verdict was about to be reached. Actually, the court scheduled the verdict reading in December, but then it was postponed to January if I’m not mistaken because the judge was changed. I felt that the court might prosecute him at that time because the court prosecuted [suspects] of every similar case prior to that. Evidence in those [lèse majesté] cases did not seem so reasonable, but the court still punished them and the fact that he is a red shirt that belongs to the opposite end of the political spectrum to the then Democrat Party administration only added to it. However, I did not think that it would be 10 years. I thought at worst it would be three years.

For him, he was confident that the case would be dismissed. Before the ruling, he donated all his clothes and things to others because he was sure that he would win the case.

On the day of the ruling, there were so many observers that the courtroom couldn’t accommodate them all. The courtroom had to be changed three times from a small courtroom on 7th floor to the 8th and then to the biggest one on the 9th floor. There must have been 200-300 people. The seats were all occupied. After the court sentenced him to 11 years’ imprisonment, he couldn’t believe it and it took him several months to recollect himself. After he got better, we talked and he decided to continue to fight the case.

 

The woman behind Somyos Pruksakasemsuk on 4th anniversary behind bar to be continued on Part II