It’s been barely one month since Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha told the press that His Majesty the King had instructed him not to use the lèse majesté law. Now we’re seeing a new protocol exercised by the administration and it’s even more disturbing.
Tiwagorn's T-shirt with the message “I lost faith in the monarchy”
Instead of using the controversial and anachronistic law, a man who insisted on wearing a controversial T-shirt was forcibly taken to a psychiatric hospital.
This was done against the will of Khon Kaen resident Tiwagorn Withiton. All he did was to insist on wearing a white T-shirt with this message: “I lost faith in the monarchy”.
He became news in the third week of last month, June.
On Monday, or three weeks later, after Tiwagorn had been visited by government officials and the police, Prachathai online news confirmed that he’s now in Khon Kaen Rajanagarindra Psychiatric Hospital.
This is what they did to him after attempts to convince him to do away with the T-shirt failed. The 10 officers, including police and members of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), the counter insurgency organization, failed after two visits.
When the man talked about it on June 22, Tiwagorn refused to yield.
“I replied that it was impossible because I was just wearing a shirt that some people might disagree with, but it probably wouldn’t go as far as to cause chaos. Then they asked, ‘What if someone assaults you and claims that they are a government official to slander?’ I replied, ‘If that happens, I hope the government really investigates it.”
According to Prachatai online news, his mother said the man, a former redshirt, has been depressed. She then ‘agreed’ to officials' suggestions that her son should be taken to hospital where he will be kept for 30 days for psychological examination.
His computers and mobile phones have also been confiscated by the authorities.
Tell me if this is a better future for Thailand. Tell me if this is better than using the lèse majesté law, severe and anachronistic as it is, with a maximum imprisonment term of 15 years.
Yes, Prachatai managed to contact Tiwagorn. It reported on Monday that Tiwagorn said he is “well”. But for how long?
Putting a sane man inside an asylum institute is damaging.
I asked human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa on the phone on Wednesday and he said since Tiwagorn's mother gave consent to have her son admitted to the psychiatric hospital, the man has had no legal representation since July 9. "He is being treated as a patient and it will be up to the doctor whether to allow visits or not. This is beyond the realm of the law," Arnon told me.
Tiwagorn said earlier that he had been spurred to post on Facebook about his T-shirt after the kidnapping of dissident and monarchy critic Wanchalearm Satsaksit in Phnom Penh in early June.
This is not a mad man, but a man who is deeply disturbed by current affairs and decided to cry out loud, whatever the cost. Tiwagorn articulated on Facebook in the middle of last month that, “losing faith isn’t the same as wanting to overthrow the monarchy. It’s a feeling inside your heart similar to falling out of love or losing one’s trust… There is no way to force people who ‘lost faith’ to regain their faith using violence.”
Tell me if this is a mad man.
Now I fear that Tiwagorn may emerge a mad man after a month inside the psychiatric institution due to ‘treatment’ and the sheer fact of being surrounded by people with psychiatric conditions.
Although Section 6 of the Constitution requires Thais to hold the monarchy in reverence, it’s clear that some Thais can no longer keep on pretending. Some fled abroad, and a few of these end up mysteriously disappearing while in exile. And if you are still inside Thailand, they may put you inside a mad house as occurred to Tiwagorn.
Tiwagorn was right, we cannot force people to hold on to faith when it’s no longer there.
Instead of accepting the fact and finding ways to restore faith, the Thai authorities have chosen to lock the man up inside a psychiatric hospital.
This cannot restore faith. If anything, it will likely have the opposite effect, not just on Tiwagorn but on any fair-minded person hearing about his fate.
Now, tell me whether the Thai authorities have chosen a mad and cruel way of addressing the case?
Which is more lunatic? A man putting on a T-shirt with a controversial political message or the authorities keeping dissent in check by putting critics of the monarchy like that man inside a madhouse?
Losing faith in the institution of the monarchy is not a mental illness. A society which puts someone who loses faith inside a psychiatric hospital is mad.
Only a mad society would accuse someone who refuses to toe the line of being insane and keep him inside a madhouse.