Testimony from wife of lèse majesté prisoner serving longest Article 112 sentence in history

Tiensutham S. , aka Yai Daengdueat, 58 years old, graduated from a top-tier Thai university with a degree in chemical engineering and most recently worked as a consultant to a number of large companies and construction projects. Family members report that he earned several hundred thousand baht a month before starting his own business and struggling to succeed.

 
Tiensutham was arrested at home on 18 December 2014 by dozens of plain-clothes military and police and taken with his wife to a military base for questioning. His wife was released, but Tiensutham was held and an arrest warrant approved by the military court on 22 December. After further questioning he was jailed on the 23rd.
 
Military prosecutors charged him with five counts of defaming the monarchy based on Facebook posts from July through November of 2014. He confessed guilt and on 31 March 2015 was sentenced to 50 years prison, reduced to 25 due to the confession. Because of the length of the sentence, Tiensutham was moved from Bangkok Remand Prison to Khlong Prem Central Prison. 
 
The details of the case are available on iLaw. This is believed to be the longest sentence ever handed down for defamation of the monarchy, exceeding previous records of 34 years for a former head of the Office of the Chief of Staff for the Crown Prince (no details available), and 30 years for a musician (reduced to 15 years, details here).
 
In the course of the arrest and investigation, forced to sign over Facebook accounts of interest to military personnel, the wife of Tiensutham, nicknamed Kai, chose not to come forward, hoping that her silence might lessen her husband’s sentence. She only recently agreed to speak publicly.
 
Kai recounted their story, relating the conduct of the investigation and being a witness in the period after the coup, the judicial process in the military court and the impact on her family. Kai’s tale was frequently interrupted by tears.
 
Yai's wife -- Kai
 

1.

The Arrest

 
“He had never participated in any demonstrations. He’s a cyber-warrior who cannot abide falsehood. He didn’t only read Thai news but attended much to international affairs and loves democracy. During the prosperity of the Thaksin government he made good money and all his business moves were successful. Following the coup, however, things went sour and business dried up and he could find no work. He became anxious and upset and began to spend much more time on Facebook. Previously, he worked as a management consultant, bringing in hundreds of thousands of baht a month, with many companies seeking his services. He is an expert manager, although his degree is engineering. He had constant work and was loved by his subordinates.” 
 
“He did Facebook for a long time and the military says that they monitored him for at least three 
years. He made many posts. You can look at Facebook and find humorous posts. After the coup he heavily criticized the military, putting up graphics accusing them of deceiving the people. After his arrest, the military froze but did not close his Facebook account; they had us both sign over our Facebook accounts. They would use the accounts to trick those in private messaging. But now everyone knows. At first, we suspected that we were among many who were detained at the military base.”
 
“Probably we were detained when we were because the military noticed that Yai had stopped posting to Facebook. He stopped when he got a job offer from Lao to manage a four-nation Mekong Basin project and was preparing to fly over to sign a contract on 22 December. He was arrested only four days before going.”
 
“The officials feared that he knew he was under surveillance and rushed to ascertain that he was still at the same address. Knowing where he was, the military decided to detain him and about nine-thirty in the morning, when we both were at home; four or five women, I think soldiers in plainclothes and plain-clothes police. They said that they were looking for address 90/50. Our house is 90/25. The women asked whether it was that house over there and I answered, but they acted as though they didn’t understand and asked me to get someone else to explain and I called for Yai. When he came out, men jumped the wall—they must have set a trap—and 20-30 men surrounded the house while two or three grabbed Yai, pinning his arms and telling him not to squirm. I didn’t know what was going on.”
 
“They all came into the house. They were covered in dark shirts and didn’t show any badges. They were all out of uniform, both soldiers and police. Afterwards a soldier in camouflage drove up, entered and saw a photo of a child we are caring for who is in the cadet school. They were shocked and said how could the troops consider him a brother. He said that they would take everyone’s computers, iPhones, telephones, everything from the drawers and he took us both to the camp.”
 
“They separated us, and I was very worried, so anxious that I didn’t eat. Finally they had to let us eat together. When I saw that my husband was safe I felt better. After some rest they let me return home. About an hour later they came back for me, saying that the general wanted to talk. That evening they asked why, when I got back home, I logged out of Facebook. They knew immediately that I had logged out. I had my son logout for me; my sister advised me to logout. I didn’t know how to do it myself.”
 
“The room at the base was square, like a modified meeting room. It was partitioned by military cloth. There was a restroom, a rotating table. The door was locked and an armed soldier stood outside. I wondered who they were going to kill.”
 
“In the morning, they set up tables in a U-shape for questioning. There was a video camera too. They said otherwise it might be like the Kritsuda case and asked whether the soldiers had taken good care of me. I answered that they had. I answered only for myself.”
 
“They asked why I hate the military. Why I was against them. I said that we need to understand each other. I hate that of the military that kills members of the public, that harms the people. Both military and police. I support that of the military that is on the side of the people.”
 
“I confronted them. I wasn’t afraid because I spoke the truth. Like in a conversation. If I didn’t respond I would have seemed like a guilty suspect. If I respond they have an opposing response, like an exchange of ideas. What is democracy? Democracy comes from elections and I elected a prime minister. What is wrong about that?”
 

2

The Judgment

 
“I was wrong in thinking that we weren’t news. First, Yai was just an ordinary citizen. Second, he wasn’t a leader or famous; he didn’t stand out in any way. If I raised an outcry that might rouse anger and he might receive a harsher sentence. If I was quiet the sentence might be mild. Then he was sentenced. If I knew it was going to be like this I would have liked to have been in the news. In fact, the soldiers themselves told me at the base. I asked them, “Tell me straight, can you? How many years will Yai be in jail? So I can prepare myself and plan for the future.” A high-ranking soldier, superior to all the others, said, “A year; not more than two.” That’s truly what he said and I believed him. I believe what people say. The other soldiers told me not to believe it, even though the police also said one or two years. But I felt like, “Yes—they say the same thing”.”
 
“He recited: “Five, five, twenty-five.” Yai asked me if I could fight. Because of the long sentence he couldn’t. I told myself, “Don’t fight. No one has ever fought and won.””
 
“We borrowed 50,000 from relatives, added to the 20,000 in the bank that’s all we have. I tried to post bail with it four times without success.”
 
“When we knew that Yai would face the military court, I became very anxious. I didn’t know how it was different. When I asked, they said that the military court gives harsher sentences and there is no appeal like for the ordinary court. I was very upset and anxious, but I didn’t imagine it would be this harsh. I steeled myself for a maximum of five years per each of the five counts. His confession would cut the total down to 10 plus years. I thought that that would be the very worst outcome and that I could bear it.”
 
“Faced with the actual outcome I went numb. Did I want to cry? Did I feel faint? Yes. But at that moment, I had to be strong; otherwise it would be the worse for Yai. I just said to him, “I’m a fighter. Fighters have to be strong and endure any and everything that may happen. I won’t leave you. I’ll wait for you.” Tears welled up in his eyes and he said, “Bear with it. If you are strong I will be strong too.” I knew then that those on the outside can help. If we are weak it’s worse for those inside. Finally he couldn’t hold back anymore and he wept freely, but did not sob so as to cause a disturbance.”
 
“When I learned the judgment? The judgment was given in camera in the courtroom and I was not allowed in. Everyone but the lawyer had to wait outside. But the court read the verdict very quickly afterwards.”
 
“When Yai and the lawyer came out of the room I watched his face to guess what had happened. He shook his head. I didn’t think it would be so bad. I thought maybe three years per count, but I understood from his shaking his head that it was five. I asked. Tears welled up in Yai’s eyes and he said “Fifty years.” I was stunned, but a crowd was gathering in front of the room and he was taken downstairs. He said to wait and he’d tell me what happened.”
 
“The children were there and were speechless. They came out front and wept, protesting, “What’s wrong with this world? How can this be?” We slipped away; people were going below to see Yai. He was very upset. Chain smoking with other prisoners. His minders had all guessed wrong. They too were stunned. The police were befuddled.”
 
“When we went downstairs courtroom, Film (Kai’s son), he had brought flowers. I didn’t know. Near his birthday he asks for his father’s blessings. He brought the garland and bowed to Yai. It was deeply touching; an image to cherish. He bowed deeply and Yai wept loudly. Both of my children knelt to the floor, their faces against his legs. Their father placed his hinds on their heads in blessing. I sat to one side till I needed to wipe his face, covered in tears. The children were weeping and shaking, and Yai told Film to lift his head and look at his father. Film would not look up and I could only say, “Father can accept your garland, but he cannot take it into the prison. Mother will keep it (Telling this, Kai cried).”
 
“Film was angry but did not know what to do. He wanted to ask, “What did he do so wrong to deserve this? Murderers get out on bail. This much punishment just for thinking differently? It’s just going on in his brain; why such harsh punishment?””
 

3.

Effects

 
“With him here we could do almost anything. With just me, the family is incomplete. I only had a little education, but Yai has much learning and is a great benefit for both my children. He was expected to go far. I don’t know much about education, but I’m good at buying and selling. Yai taught me English, taught us a great deal so that we didn’t have to spend money on special schools. Now we don’t have him and I can’t afford special schools. I have nothing to give the children. It’s all over.”
 
“Yai’s relationship with the children? I asked Film, he had just recently visited Yai, why he was crying. “Why do you love Yai so much?” He said, “You just don’t understand. You understand the word “family”? That’s what he didn’t have. Film only had a father after I met Yai. They watched football together, watched this and that together. They did things together. If you ask, “Did I choose Yai?” I have to answer, “No, the children chose him.” I introduced him to Film and Nueng, and they accepted him first. I decided afterwards.”
 
“My children were never before interested in politics. We didn’t get involved. But now they question everything. They have more opinions than I do. They say, “Facebook belongs to another country, how can they arrest Father? Father didn’t kill anybody; the judgment is excessive.” As a result they’ve been trying to learn why their father is being punished so severely. Every day now they look for things to read. This is an effect of loss and pain, and intensifies their anger. I worry. I don’t want them to think that way. I tell them to concentrate on school and not get involved in politics; I’ve got no one.”
 
“I’m fortunate that my parents take good care of us. In the past my mother has bought sweets, sticky rice and durian for us. There’s plenty to eat at my mother’s house. She is concerned for her grandchildren and wants the kids and me to sleep at her house. I know that she is comfortable, but when I’m feeling depressed, I don’t want anyone to see. It has happened that while eating at Mother’s house, being happy, I began to cry when I saw things that he ate. Mother walked away, then turned and said, “Don’t be like this!””
 
“I understand everything at home. Mother says that if he gets out and can’t find work, then we’ll take care of each other here. I’m not overly worried. I would like him to get out and at the least be a grandfather to his grandchildren.”
 
“People say, “Why are you complaining. Everyone has troubles.” It’s true, others have problems, but they’re not all the same. We don’t know what other people’s responsibilities are, what their lives are like. I’m a good housewife and now head of the family by default. It’s tiring. Yai supported me; now I have to support him.”
 
“Yai has nothing left of his own, but I tell him I’ll take care of him. I’ve gone back to buying and selling things.”
 
“His old family has rejected him. He had sent his son to study abroad, and shortly before he was arrested he picked him up at the airport. After his arrest he told his daughter by phone, but the daughter chose to fly back, angry that Yai had left his/her mother. They had been separated for a long time. The adults didn’t get along, but Yai still did his full duty as a father, trying to give his daughter whatever she needed. When he met me he didn’t have anything left. Just his dog, a beagle.”
 
“Many men are interested in me now, but I can’t abandon him. Whatever happens, I have to take care of him. The fullness we had makes it impossible to abandon him and I’ve told him I won’t leave him. For him to lose me I would have to die and leave this world. If we were to separate, it would be after he is released. I could not leave with him in this condition. I cannot leave him (cries). I tell him that I’ll be the one who meets him at the gate when he leaves. He didn’t kill anybody. He didn’t sell drugs. The punishment is far too cruel. I will take the best care of him and wait for the day of his release—however long that is.”

 

4.

At the Prison

 
“We haven’t yet requested a royal pardon. We’re waiting for him to achieve the status of first-grade prisoner. He’s now in the middle rank. He is teaching English to the other prisoners and the prison personnel see that he has both English and computer knowledge. This should help him to attain first-grade status.”
 
“Visits at Klong Prem Central Prison? I don’t like to talk about it, but I have to tell the worst. I really detest the body checks. Aren’t there devices they can use? Do they have to grope with their hands (she brought her hand up as though to grope her breasts)? They’re females, but I still don’t like it. They grab everything. You can’t take in money. You can’t take in a notepad; you have to tear out a single sheet of paper.”
 
“You can visit once a week at the most. And you shouldn’t have a designated day. You should be allowed to come any day because when there are long weekends and holidays like Songkran you can’t visit, sometimes two weeks in a row. I’m concerned about his health too. He’s not young and I worry.”
 
“Visits are limited to 30 minutes, but it’s not like Bangkok Remand Prison where there are private visits. Here it’s a competition. They let a hundred, two hundred relatives in at once. Then there’s a glass shield separating the relatives five meters from the prisoners. You talk by telephone; they can’t really see each other. There are reflections on the glass any you have to lean this way and that to get a glimpse.”
 
“It’s like going to the zoo. You feel like the panda Lin Hui is going back to China. Like that. You pass multiple checks then have to walk zigzag, as if it were a game. When you finally get in there’s yet another check, then go right or left. It’s like musical chairs. If Yai arrives first, he sits waiting impatiently and I have to run to see him. If I don’t see him, I move on and another visitor takes the chair. It’s a long hall and I look for him: Is he here?”
 
“Yai seems to be in better spirits, but I wonder if he’s in bad shape deep down. We can’t say much. Lèse majesté cases have both supporters and opponents there (in the prison); when asked he just says that he violated the computer crimes act.”
 
“When I visit he says, “Mother Kai, Mother Kai, do you know that I used to love Mondays because Mother Kai visited on Mondays. Now I very much love Fridays” (Visiting day had been shifted to Friday). And he cries. I ask why and he says that he misses Mother Kai very much. “Mother Kai, do you remember that I used to kiss your cheek every morning? That I took care of you?””
 
“I try to have some enjoyment too. Facebook can help. I get anxious when I try to relax with my parents, so I relax with friends. At the least there is the word “Strive!” It’s only a small word but it gives a good feeling.”
 
“Since 18 December (the day of the arrest) I’ve had no day without tears. But the tears have changed. At first I sobbed. Now the tears fall quietly.”
 
“For the past five months I have not missed a single visiting day. Do I have a wish? Just a little. If he is released that will be the greatest joy. I want everyone to have such joy. But he is suffering now.”