I decided to write this letter for you, my little son, and for the many other children who may be confused when you hear the story of “Pai.” You may not understand the disappearance of the once-beautiful world. When you grow up a bit, you will come to be aware of more than your own life and comfort.
Pai is a university student and activist.
A university student is a student much older than you, my son, meaning that he must go to his university and study. The difference is that Pai is studying law at a university in order to gain knowledge to use in his future work. “Activist” is a word that may be new to you. Put simply, an activist is someone who thinks up and carries out actions to express his ideas and beliefs.He does so in order for other people to become aware, understand, and join together in the service of what he believes is right and worthwhile.
Pai’s activism is often about human rights and protecting the rights and quality of life for villagers from the wealthy who wish to exploit natural resources for a profit, such as in mining. The National Human Rights Commission gave Pai an award because the work that he and his university student friends in Dao Din (Stars on Earth) did benefitted the villagers greatly. He then became known as “Pai Dao Din.”
But Pai has received more than only awards. Activism has sometimes generated significant problems for him. This is because there are people who do not believe in what we believe in. Sometimes people are displeased by what we believe is right. This is especially the case for those whose interests have been threatened due to Pai’s activism.
Pai has been arrested before. He was arrested for his activist work calling on people to vote against the constitution draft (the one passed in the recent referendum) because it was not democratic and will result in us losing rights. But the prime minister, whom the media has children endearingly call “Uncle Tu,” did not like Pai’s activism. He did not want anyone to say that the draft constitution was bad. He wants people to exist in silence so that the country will be tranquil. Pai was arrested because he organized a seminar on the draft constitution at the university. This case still remains pending against him. Pai’s name is also on a list for soldiers to monitor his every step.
Jatuphat ‘Pai’ Boonpattararaksa
It might be a bit difficult for a child like you to understand why Pai was locked up this time. We live in Thailand. And Thailand has a law that the majority of countries in the world do not have or no longer use. This is the “lèse majesté law,” or Article 112 of the Criminal Code. Our lèse majesté law carries the harshest punishment of any comparable law in the world. The United Nations and many democratic countries have said over and over that this law conflicts with the principle of human rights and we should amend it. Simply put, this law in its current form may cause many people to be unfairly tormented.
But those who hold power in Thailand have never considered amending the law. They still believe that we should go to prison for up to 15 years if we speak ill of the king. This is what Pai was accused of doing.
If you cannot comprehend this, my son, try to imagine that one day you are sitting around with your friends chatting about your father. But you do not praise your father and instead, what you say makes him look bad in your friend’s eyes. When I learn of this, I scoop you up and lock you away underground. I leave you there for years. You cannot go out to run and play and you do not have to go to school. I do this because you spoke ill of your father.
This is how Article 112 works. Therefore, when we are in Thailand, my son, you have to be very careful. You cannot talk about the king however you please the way it is done in fables. You must only say good things about him and his family. Remember.
This time, what happened is that in December, the BBC distributed an article detailing the new king’s biography (an account of his life up until the present). The BBC writes and disseminates a biography every time there is an important new leader in the world. They include information about every aspect of the biography of the individual. The article about the new king was no different. Often times, some parts of a person’s biography may not be gratifying [to the person in question]. As for this article, I do not know if the information provided by the BBC was accurate. But the BBC stated that the article was written in line with their principles to provide reliable information to readers in every country around the world.
If you become an important person one day, the BBC may decide to write about you as well. They may come to interview me, too. If they do, I will certainly not omit stories of your disobedience as a child, my dear.
Well, this is where Pai’s problem arose. On the first day that theThai translation of the article was disseminated on the BBC website and Facebook page, more than 20,000 people “liked” it and more than 2,800 “shared” it. One of the 2,800 was Pai.
Pai was the only person who was arrested the next morning. You may be surprised, my son, about why he was arrested. I told you already that Pai’s name is on a list of people whose actions and conduct soldiers closely follow. The military official who reported Pai to the police said this himself. He even told me that he had to protect his Boss. This military official believes that Pai committed a crime when he shared the story. He consulted with other soldiers before he filed the complaint against Pai and they agreed with his opinion.
Then the judicial process began. Usually during the trial proceedings (before the court has decided whether or not the accused actually committed a crime), the accused person will not be detained as he is held to be innocent. But in Pai’s case, the court authorized his detention and he has already been denied bail for over a month.
There are many more details about how Pai’s rights were violated. But it would be too complicated for you right now, my son. In addition, some of what happened is too violent and grave for a child your age.
The next part of the story is the most difficult for me to write. In truth, I do not know how to conclude so that this story will seem rational to you. This is not like a fable in which the hero and heroine always escape danger in the end. This is not a story that I can conclude with a neat saying along the lines of those who do good things will have good things come to them, or courage will lead to transformation, or the truth never dies, etc. I do not know how to end this story because I do not know how it will turn out.
My son, remember that I told you that Pai is an activist who expresses his beliefs and struggles in the service of them? So, I and my friends are working to tell people what happened to him. We hope that people will come to share the same beliefs until there is change and the rights of Pai and others who have met the same fate will be respected.
When all of this ends, I hope that I will be able to tell you that we do not have to give up our beliefs. I hope that I will be able to tell you that the insistence on justice and what is right is always worth it.
What I can tell you right now, my son, is that if one day you come to have power and luck, you must use it cautiously and constructively. We have seen too many examples of the opposite already.
Right now, you can still be happy with your life and the beautiful world in which you live. I only ask that you not forget what is happening around you, and with the other young people like Pai.
And I shall show you that we can do more than simply sit and watch what happens.
Nuttaa 'Bow' Mahattana
This article was translated by Tyrell Haberkorn.