Imprisoned Poet Testifies: “Summoned again, I would again refuse”

 
Anti-coup poet Sirapop, pen-name Rungsira, is a tall, 53 year old, long-haired man with a rough demeanor but of polite and reasoned speech.
 
On the Rungsira webblog, he analysed current and historical politics, as well as military topics such as troop strength and weaponry. He sometimes references Wikipedia, so it is best for the readers to be cautious that he is a self-taught expert. Many entries are, naturally, in opposition to the coup d’état.
 
Following the 22 May 2014 coup, his name appeared on a list of those summoned by the NCPO. The list was televised the first of June, ordering Rungsira to report on 3 June. Rungsira did not appear.
 
He was forcibly detained 25 June 2014 at 10.30pm by Special Operations, Rapid Deployment troops wearing incomplete uniforms and carrying military weapons. They used their vehicle to cut off the pickup in which Rungsira was travelling in the rain. “Like in a movie,” he says. This was before arriving at the intersection leading to Kalasin City on the way Ubon Ratchathani. He says he was awaiting an opportunity to seek political refugee status from the UNHCR. 
 
He wonders why the NCPO even knew his name. He used his pen name for the blog and he had never participated in any demonstrations or joined any organization. Only two close friends knew who Rungsira really was.
 
After being detained at the military camp for seven days, he was turned over to the police under accusation of having violated the NCPO summons. Based on three posts to the internet, he was later also charged with lèse majesté under Article 112 and with violating the Computer Crimes Act. He has now been jailed for just a month short of two years.
 
 
The three offending posts were:
 
  1. A politically derisive verse posted on the Prachatai web board 4 May 2009.
  2. A sarcastic cartoon captioned with the line from a popular song, “Deva walking on the earth,” posted to the Rungsira Facebook site, 15 December 2013.
  3. A mocking cartoon and message on the Rungsira weblog under the heading, “Descendants of the undead Bowaradet Rebellion and these unfreed slaves” posted to the Rungsira weblog 22 January 2014.
 
Late in the afternoon the day before Rungsira himself was detained, about 30 soldiers and policemen, both in and out of uniform raided the Songkhla offices of his contractor business, confiscated all the telephones and computers and detained his two daughters, son and 10 year old grandchild for questioning at the military camp at Songkhla City, holding them all until after midnight.
 
“I was shocked,” His daughter Phloy says. “I could do nothing. I tried to keep calm. I thought what is it that is so serious? It’s as though we’d committed murder, like we were trafficking narcotics or committed some other serious crime, something truly big
At first I was very troubled. Our family had never faced anything like this.
 
“Even with long absences we are still very close. It’s hard to accept this kind of thing, the more so since our father is not a bad person. He hasn’t done anything to warrant prison and that fact just makes it worse. As long he’s been there, I haven’t resigned myself to it and I’m determined that whatever happens I won’t abandon him. However long he is on the inside, I will take care of my father until he is free once more.”
 
Currently he is visited only by his daughters, taking turns once a month.
 

The long road fighting the case and the secret trial 

 
Sirapop’s story has been little news for the two years of his imprisonment, but we had opportunity to speak with him at the time he was arrested for failure to report.
 
“Since the coup of 2006 I have been unable to accept seizures of power, the injustices a small group commits against the majority, the slaughter of unarmed citizens, 100 of their fellow countrymen killed and a thousand injured, the center of the capital occupied by soldiers repeatedly for over half a century.
 
“These repetitious, contradictory and backward events make me think this country is in a critical state of decline.”
 
He denies all charges against him and confirms that he will continue to fight them. His family has offered bail at least three times but the Court continues to refuse.
 
More, as a prisoner he joined the Resistant Citizen group in charging General Prayut Chan-ocha and his cohorts with violating Article 113, that is with treason, for overthrowing the government. The court of first instance and the appeals court have refused to hear the case. 
 
Hearings on the lèse majesté charges only began on the 10th of May this year, with the military court ordering secrecy so that no one can monitor the proceedings and the progress of the case.
 
Hearings on the charge of violating the NCPO summons began on 22 March 2015. Defendant’s attorney, Mr. Anon, says that the state has four or five witnesses, most in order to confirm that Sirapop did not report. The defendant’s questions how the NCPO knew his name, how the operational team was able to arrest him while traveling on the highway and so on, will be addressed in the secret lèse majesté proceedings.
 

“Summoned again, I would again refuse.”

 
The defendant testified in the failure to appear case on 23 May this year, after having been incarcerated for a year and 11 months. He was brought from the Bangkok Remand Prison to the military court in leg irons and prison outfit. The proceedings were clearly audible, but the judge would not permit recording.
 
Sirapop testified that Nonthaburi is his hometown and that he completed a course of studies in journalism, but works as an architect and construction contractor. At the time he was arrested he was working on a large project in Hat Yai, Songkhla with about 50 employees. Soldiers and police raided the house in Songkhla and detained his children for questioning at a military base before freeing them. Sirapop himself was seized in Kalasin Province while riding in a taxi on the way to Ubon Ratchathani Province. He was held by the military for seven days. Along with the driver and a travelling companion he had not known previously he was taken to a military base in Khon Kaen for preliminary questioning. Following that, an Internal Security Operations Command unit flew in to interrogate him separately before putting him in a van with a soldier attached to the Army in Bangkok. The first round of interrogations in Bangkok was led by a policeman of major general rank from TSCD. There were also soldiers and police both in uniform and plainclothes along with a senior DSI prosecutor, information officers from Military Region I, NCPO legal representatives and officers of the ISOC Information Department. Altogether there were about 30 persons involved in the three hour interrogation.
 
He told them that he had been writing political poetry and political and military analysis since 2006 and publishing on the internet. The questioning focused on his articles opposing the coup, on military strategy and on his political views.
 
Sirapop told the court, “In the course of the interrogation, officials of various agencies revealed that they had been monitoring my postings since 2009.” 
 
He testified that following that interrogation, officers of the DSI interrogated him further and that there were discussions with military intelligence personnel and with NCPO officials. There was a major session on the final evening in military custody with 50 officials led by an admiral with the NCPO. The admiral told him that he had been constantly monitored and that there were many items that had come to the attention of military war rooms during multiple periods of unrest, regardless of the instigating color.
 
He was then turned over to the police.
 
He also had opportunity to explain to the court his opposition to the coup, that indeed, he had for long been opposed to coups d'état, and began expressing that opposition in blogs in 2006. He realized that corruption and lèse majesté were nearly always among the reasons given for a takeover dissolving a government of the people. He believes that whenever there is a problem, any problem whatsoever, it should be resolved under the democratic covenant in accordance with the will of the people as expressed in elections.
 
He testified loud and clear that having for long expressed this firm stance, in the face of yet another takeover he could not cooperate in any way with the coup-makers. 

The court scheduled the next hearing for 7 July 2016

“My position has always been non-violent resistance to coups. When the coup occurred I engaged in civil disobedience, refusing to accept the power of those using the force of weapons to topple a government established by the people under our system of democracy with the King as head of state.
 
“I did not believe that the coup makers, or, if you will, the traitors, would remain in power for long and I chose to defend rights, freedoms and the constitution peacefully and nonviolently, avoiding aggression, by simply not cooperating with the traitors.”
 
The attorney asked if there were another coup and he were again summoned: “Would you go?”
 
“If there were another coup and I was again summoned, I promise you: I would not go!”
 
The day on which he testified against the charge of violating NCPO orders, the Supreme Court agreed to consider the case which Sirapop and the Resistant Citizens group brought against the NCPO for treason.