Life for an Isan musician before, after a 30 years in jail for lèse majesté

Oh (not his real name) is in his 30s. Since June 2014, just shortly after the Coup, he has been imprisoned at Ubon Ratchathani Central Prison for one an half years. His case happened and ended silently. His life behind bars has also been going on silently.
 
He was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment, but the sentence was reduced by half, to 15 years, because he had confessed.  He was charged for 9 Facebook posts or 9 offences of defaming, insulting or threatening the monarchy.  
 
It should be noted that Oh was punished under both Article 112 of the Criminal Code and the Computer Crimes Act. Normally in cases of the same kind, the court sentences only under Article 112 which carries the heavier penalty, which is in accordance with Article 90 of the Criminal Procedure Code.  

The Ubon Ratchathani Central Prison

Oh: Friends and Music are his Life.

 
Oh is medium build, dark-skinned with bright eyes. He is polite and proper. His mother said he was really rather pale-skinned, but the prison has worn him out and made him much darker. Although his case started quietly, he met his fate alone, but luckily, his parents visit him regularly. Oh’s mother travels to visit him almost daily to the point where she almost does no work. She is now has the heavy responsibility of raising another young grandchild. Oh’s father is an art teacher in a high school. He tries to visit his son during the day time whenever his teaching schedule permits.
 
Oh’s history is interesting. He looks like young man with a lot of friends, loving music and has begun to get interested in politics during the past few years. 
 
Thanasin, Oh’s father, recounted that Oh almost earned a Bachelor Degree in Computer Sciences, but on the last subject he didn’t send in the work so he changed to take a Higher Vocational Diploma instead.
 
“Oh has many friends. When he was a computer science major undergraduate student, his classmates were here to work on their final project. Oh is very good at computers, so he helped all his friends. It turned out that all his classmates graduated except him because he did not do his own work in time in the last subject,” said his father
 
Chawanphat, his mother, said “I asked him why before helping others he had not finished his own work.  He loves his friends dearly. It partly why he was jailed because he and his friends could freely use the computer at our house.  Whoever came to work could use it.”
 
What he was good at was playing guitar which he taught himself since he was a teen.  Maybe this is because he was inspired by his father, a musician who can play many instruments.  He started to work for money from playing at night not long before his case started.

 

A Turning Point in His Interest in Politics

 
Looking back, no one in his family noticed any change in his political views, even the slightest. His father insisted that Oh only talked with him about music and never talked about politics at all. Sometime his father had to resort to teasing him because he wanted to know what he thought. 
 
His father said, “Earlier there was a vague notion that he was interested in politics. He heard news that there were rallies with the yellow shirts and the red shirts. He went to hear both sides. I jokingly asked whether he was red or yellow because he went to both.  He said that he just went to learn.  He wanted to listen without taking sides.”
 
Through his letters, Oh said he had not before been interested in politics. But a woman he was interested in invited him to a concert of a big rock band at a red shirt rally.  That was the first time that he had experienced “the world of politics.”
 
Oh wrote “I agreed because even though I wasn’t a red shirt I had a red shirt to wear, so nobody would do anything to me. It was the first time I reluctantly went to a red shirt stage.”
 
“Before the concert started, there was a speech by Surachai, a red shirt leader in his southern accent. I was just listening to him. What he said did not incite any violence,” he said. After the concert, they parted and went home.
 
After that, Oh began to be interested in politics and searched for information on the internet and began conversations with politically minded people. Initially he talked with fellow online gamers and posted “Sick of Mark [Abhisit Vejjajiva].” Later he chatted with a friend who introduced him to underground information that shocked him, and at the same time he met a lady he was seriously in love with.  But not long after his heart was severely broken and that made him heal the wound by constructing a wayward identity.
 
Oh wrote “Before, I wasn’t a person who was brave or reckless but because I was disappointed in love, I did things without thinking. I only knew at that time what it was like to lose a loved one. I felt that I was worthless and had nothing to lose. I have seen many people do crazy things from a broken heart. I never thought that it would happen to me that I would dare to break the law. Although I was cursed by people on the net, I felt that ganging up on me made me forget my broken heart.”
 

A Covert Investigator Chatted with Him for Months

 
After he turned to the dark path, he met many more people on the internet including “Taengmo,” who was the individual who brought changes that affected him.
 
“I used a Facebook account with fake information but for my province I put the real province because I thought they could not catch me from the province alone. Many people requested to be a friend and whoever asked to be a friend, I took them all, whether they praise me or curse me. One of them was Tangmo. We greeted each other just like anyone would do. I didn’t notice anything abnormal. She told me that she was also from Ubon and her house was on Soi Motorbike. So she had to be a local to know this soi. I believed that she really was from Ubon. After chatting for a while, I asked for her phone number. This was the most stupid mistake of my life. I used a public pay phone to call to hear if she really is a woman. Tangmo could speak Lao so I faithfully believed that she really was from Ubon. Afterward, I used my real Facebook account and real phone number to contact Tangmo,” said Oh.  
 
He said that he dared to trust Tangmo because she shared an illegal clip he posted on Facebook. Oh’s mother added that in fact he may not have gone very far, unless he had been strongly provoked by a ‘spy’ that chatted with him and encouraged him to do wrong.  
 
Next, Tangmo arranged to have a meal with him at Big C. There were calls to arrange this and check if he was at home and who was with him. After Oh hung up, a postman came asking for his father. When Oh replied that his father was not there, a force of officials came in and charged him.   
 
Oh recounted “At that time I was still worried about Tangmo, until I got to the police station and read a statement I will never forget: “A spy using the name ‘Momay Tangmo.’ Then I learned the truth. ”
 
 
Oh’s mother filling out a form to see her son in prison.
 
 

Putting Hope in the NCPO 

 
Oh's case happened in March 2012. Dozens of police officers stormed the house and arrested him when he was alone. He confessed and was charged. Fortunately, during the investigation phase, he was granted bail.
 
“Officials who try to arrest people on this charge only do it to meet their work targets. Even the person who took my son away told me, ‘Father, to tell you the truth, I did it to get work results’. He dared to say that Oh should confess first and wait to fight the case in court. If I could turn back time, I would say ‘If this was your son, would you let him confess first, this to, knowing that in this case, a confession eaves no way out?’ Oh’s father said.
While on bail Oh stopped everything in social media, and lived out of sight to the point that his mother said it was the beginning of his ‘prison term.’ It was mental torture for everyone in the house. Oh was extremely stressed and decided to ordain at a forest monastery and found that a monk’s life was what he wanted.
 
His mother recalled, “It's been like a prison outside of prison since his case began.  He had to keep to himself. He never experienced this. He was terrified. It felt like he was already in jail.  He was afraid to travel or do anything. The money was difficult. He could not do anything or work like before. In fact he could have done something but he had the feeling that he couldn’t. It got to where I had to support my son.  Eventually, he was ordained as a monk and he was a monk in his heart. He didn’t just cover himself with a saffron robe.”
 
His case was inactive. The public prosecutor had not yet ordered a prosecution until after the NCPO coup in May 2014. Oh’s name appeared in a summons. His parents thought that Monk Oh should prove his innocence. His mother especially believed that the military would help deal with the story of a mistake by an impetuous young man and hoped that by not contesting anything, there would be an opportunity for him to turn over a new leaf.
 
“When he went to report he was a monk.  Someone told me that his name was among those summoned. I decided to see him and he agreed. He did not react like the first time he was arrested and was afraid and went into hiding. He asked if his parents had thought it through. He also said, when he was getting into the vehicle, “This is a trip to prison.” However, our hope all along was that the Army would help us. Everything would be better.  They would see our intention to cooperate,” she said.
 
"The military talked to us very nicely when he reported. At that time they were on our side. They said your son had an old case, but he would be freed. They said everything right and he would be released. But they did not help us at all. The court went by the process.  I may looked at things in a naive and foolish way but that’s the way I really saw things at the time. "
 
"We hoped to rely on the NCPO to help because my son acted out of ignorance and at the time when he did it, it was the political climate. Politics then was very hot. We thought he would adjust his attitude and looking back, he had done nothing like this, apart from this one case. In fact, it wasn’t like that."
 
“Oh was prosecuted and we did not make any excuses. Everything went according to procedure. We showed that he would not be a bad example to anyone. Our last hope was that he would be released on a parole, or put on probation and report periodically. I hoped he would be released to get back to normal, to school or to work. It would be better than to jailing him."
 
“On the day of the verdict, the first judge wasn’t much. The second one was a woman. She felt like a mother. She seemed to take pity on Oh. She did not say much but her eyes reflected a mother’s feelings.  But she could not help. She just took pity,“ Oh’s mother said with tears in her eyes.
 
The mother’s hopes seemed to be all wrong. Everything went wrong and Oh was sentenced to 30 years in prison.  The whole family was shocked.
 
“The most difficult thing to come to terms with is that it’s true that parents are not impartial and will say their child didn’t do wrong. I believe that anyone, whether he is my son or not, if he did something wrong, or is a bad person, he should be punished. But it happens that Oh has always been a very good person. He is well-behaved and he studies well. If he was like many of my friends’ children who are arrested for drugs or brawling or murder, I would accept it because my son would be really wrong. But it turned out that our son was not like that and he was given 30 years. I can’t accept that.  If he was that bad, then why not kill him? Just execute him if he is so bad that he needs to be jailed for 30 years. I cannot accept a verdict as severe as this,” said the father in a trembling voice.
 
Oh’s father posts his son’s story on his Facebook.
 
Oh as a recent ex-monk had been pressured even before his verdict was read. After returning from the military camp and the police detaining him on an Article 112 case at Ubon Ratchathani Court, he felt pressure from the outset.  
 
"When I went to court for the bail order, a court official called me and said, “I want to give you some advice" "What?" "If I do not love ..., simply go to Cambodia. Do not live in Thailand.” It was the first advice I got from an official. He went on, “Do you think you will get bail?  I don’t think so. You know, everyone in prison loves him. If they know what your case is, you will get beaten up.” When he finished, I went back to sit and wait for the bail order in fear. .... When a judge came, he looked at me sternly, and said "Your case is a defamation case. You have defamed what should not be defamed.” The court did not grant me bail as the official had said,”Oh said.
 
"Two weeks after the verdict was delivered. I was transferred to Block 3. This block is the one with a lot of people.  You can’t sleep on your back.  You have to sleep on your side and you can’t stretch your legs. There are also fire ants in the room. I got bitten every night. The air is hot and stifling. I slept in agony,” said Oh.
 

Schizophrenia: An ugly development 

 
Oh was also referred for treatment of schizophrenia because of stress since he was detained during the trial.  At that time the police sent him for examination at Si Maha Phot Hospital. The psychiatrist started by asking him, “Do you know it's illegal?”
 
"At that time I was afraid and I answered all the questions badly.  The doctor asked me how I was arrested. I answered the doctor according to a police document that I had seen “They used  a spy to arrest me.” The doctor laughed and asked me, "A CIA spy, right?,” Oh recounted. He said that on that day he got a large set of drugs but he never took a single one. Later he was put in prison. He was sent for more treatment.
 
"The doctor asked if the CIA spy was still following me, if I was hearing things and seeing hallucinations, if I was depressed or suicidal. To all the questions I answered yes in the same way, in case having a psychiatric condition would save my case. It meant that my prison gave me pills and injections. At first, I wasn’t abnormal, but when I started the pills and injections, I started walking stiffly so other people called me Robocop.  When I was just sitting, I wanted to shake my head. I sat and kept shaking my head. My arms were shaking in my sleep all the time. I did everything slowly without me knowing it.  But I know it because other people told me.  I had pills and injections for almost a year. When I was in Block 3, someone ask if I was like this when I was outside. I said that it happened after I took the pills and injections. Therefore, he advised me to stop the medication and see.  I decided to give it up but I was given an injection every month for the next three months. After that, my abnormal symptoms gradually disappeared one by one. Today I live without stress or worry. I only think that I shouldn’t use this way.  I am afraid of it,” Oh said.
 
Oh in the prison's truck.

Oh’s Life Inside: His Family’s Life Outside

 
Oh’s mother said that at the beginning of his jail term and was in a bad condition, the family was what you call “falling apart” until the past year or more when the family can settle down and tell their story.
 
"If anyone has been in this situation, they will know everything, the expense, the time, the feelings, even the life until we survived and can sit down here and talk because it is past.  But at the time, the whole family was close to dying. In one second, everything was gone. Even today, if you ask if there are tears, yes there still are but I swallow them," his mother said.
 
His mother and especially his father began to follow politics, which they had seen as something remote. They started using Facebook to explore what the world was like to bring a heavy sentence on their son.  Recently, they have begun to understand and have the confidence to go public, to have the courage to face what happened, to tell friends at work about their son's case, and to communicate with the outside world
 
The last hope of Oh's mother is seeking a royal pardon for her son.
 
"I never thought that he would be sentenced to ten years. Once he starts the process, then we can write and ask for mercy. I hope for the power of merit for my son,” she said tearfully.
 
“She puts her hopes in the power of merit but I hope for the accuracy of the law and hope that we will have a full democracy.  The result of merit is that even Article 112 should be amended through reform from a democratic politics,” said the father.
 
"Before, I did not care about politics.  But when Oh was arrested, a friend gave me encouragement that it was unfortunate that Oh was arrested in a political case. But the crisis has enlightened me about politics and this case. Today, I still insist that the penalties in Article 112 should be amended. There is really a violation of rights. There is protection of leaders or the heads of any state. But the penalty is too severe. Think about it. A murderer is not sentenced to 30 years. However many counts there are, they should be combined into one.  I am not taking my son’s side. My son did wrong in doing that, but the penalty in this case must still be amended.  I hope just for that. The penalty should be lighter than this. It should at least be international standard,” he said.
 
Oh was transferred to help old people in the block for the elderly.  He helps in the infirmary.  He is trying to spend his life there letting go. His father said he loves his guitar and he has never been away from it.
 
“I haven’t played guitar for a long time. My fingers now are too stiff. … Anyway, the correctional staff said they will let me help with computer entering data. That’s enough to make me happy,” said Oh.