Red-shirt given life sentence for arson: interview

The Supreme Court sentenced to life imprisonment a northeastern red shirt leader convicted of arson, committed in response to the violent crackdown on red shirts in Bangkok. The red-shirt tells Prachatai he would prefer just to be executed. 
 
Pichet “DJ Toi” Tabuda
 
Pichet “DJ Toi” Tabuda is part of a red shirt group that committed arson at Ubon Ratchathani Provincial Hall, paralleling the violence at Ratchaprasong intersection, Bangkok during the May 2010 political violence. Heavy jail terms were handed out by the Supreme Court to all 13 defendants on 15 December 2015, which are several times heavier than the terms earlier given by the Court of First Instance. 
 
Pichet Tabuda, a famous red-shirt political programme host at a local red-shirt community radio station, received the heaviest sentence out of the 13 defendants. Initially, the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeals gave him a jail sentence of one year. However, the Supreme Court overturned this ruling and sentenced him to death. Since Pichet pleaded guilty, the death sentence was commuted to a life sentence. 
 
Of the other 12 defendants, Watthana Junsilp, the lawyer for all 13 defendants, revealed that the Supreme Court overturned the rulings by the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeals in many cases. For example, the lower courts gave sentences of 1-2 years or even dismissed some cases. The Supreme Court overturned these rulings and meted out life sentences, reduced to 33-34 years after the defendants pleaded guilty. 
 
Pichet is a core leader of the Chuk Thong Rop (Raise the Battle Flag) group, a red-shirt group with a large base in Ubon Ratchathani, a red-shirt stronghold province in the Isaan region. Pichet is a popular leader and local businessman who ran a community radio station, hence his nickname. The arson committed in 2010 was a response to the red shirt crackdowns at that time by the Abhisit Vejjajiva government against red shirt protesters in the capital.
 
Prachatai interviewed on the phone with Pichet “DJ Toi” Tabuda right after he received his sentence, during which he said he would prefer just to be executed. 
 
How did you feel after being sentenced?
 
There’s no problem with it; I have to make my peace with it. My case isn’t some run-of-the-mill theft case. How many people in this country get as much respect as me? In fact, I wish they had left the sentence as execution, so I could get executed and everything will be over by tomorrow. I don’t care. I believe I followed the right path, and there’s no need for me to beg anyone for anything. They have the right to jail me since it’s their job.
 
What were your expectations prior to getting sentenced?
 
I have no expectations from the current junta, so I am unable to hope for the future. At least, I can keep on living until I’m old. Usually, with criminal cases, they’re no longer than 10 years, even for murders or the case of Pol. Lt-Gen. Chalor Kerdthes [who murdered the wife and son of a suspect with intent and was jailed from 1994-2013, with his sentence gradually reduced until he was released after serving 19 years]. I never did anything that extreme. But I don’t mind [the outcome], and I even understand it. My case is a big case, and a light punishment wouldn’t set a national standard. The law here has a heavy hand, and exercises its might to the full. I’m at peace with it now. Since the first day [of the case] until today I’ve been through every step of the judicial process. I’ll be a good boy from now on. In jail I’ll behave so well until I get upgraded to the medium level in three months. In a year and five months I’ll get to the best level and try to lessen my sentence.
 
What reasons did the court give in reversing the 1 year sentence to a life one?
 
I think they saw me as the leader, and I must not evade responsibility, or something like that. Overturning the rulings of both the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeals means that my case really isn’t a normal one. I guess it’s a case of judicial discretion, a case of “up to you.” My grandparents from 111 years ago wouldn’t be as lucky as I am now. My grandfather was accused of being a mutinous rebel and was beheaded. I’m much luckier, getting a life sentence.
 
How are the other defendants after receiving their sentence?
 
Everyone is in good spirits. None of us are wailing or raging since we’ve all chosen this path that’s right for us. We’re standing for what we believe in. If you think we’re wrong and jail us, then it’s alright, no problem.
 
They’re in good spirits, really?
 
They’re smiling and in good cheer. I told them that everyone has to die sometime, and for people like us there’s not much of a difference between dying outside or inside of jail. If we fought for what we believe in and died in jail, then we have done rare, honourable deeds for our clans and families. Out of 60, 70 million people, how many get the chance to do this?
 
Do you want to make an appeal to anyone or any groups?
 
Not really. I don’t think my words will reach their ears. I’d just like to ask you to take a stand for what you believe in, and stand firm with your conscience. Don’t lose hope or spirit. Living or dying, other people’s opinions of you don’t matter. If you didn’t harm the people around you, keep standing firm. Your spirit can’t be killed.
 
I heard that you started a direct sales business. How’s it going?
 
I’ve only started it one week ago. I have agents from seven provinces selling herbal drinks and other herbal products. I thought that we would sell around a thousand or two thousand bottles a day. The first day we sold over seven thousand, and ten thousand on the second day. I don’t know how it’s going to continue but it’s going well at the moment. But since I’m going in jail, I’ll have to pass the torch of this business to my wife and son. They are in even better spirits than me.
 
Anything else you’d like to add?
 
I don’t need to beg or plead for anything. I know in my own heart whether I’m right or wrong, but I also know what standards are being used [by the authorities]. It’s not that I think they’re blameless, but I think some good can come of this. 
 
They’re using the maximum level of punishment against me. So when others do things like occupying the airport or taking over the Government House [referring to yellow shirts and PDRC mobs, respectively], the same standards and measurements should be used against them. You can execute me tomorrow if I can hope that the same standards will be used. 
 
This article is first published in Thai here and translated into English by Asaree Thaitrakulpanich