On 16 January, Mongkol ‘Yale’ Santimethakul, a political activist, was kidnapped late at night after joining a protest that afternoon. Someone who kidnapped him used his phone to send messages to threaten his friends, claiming to be from the Internal Security Operation Command (ISOC). Via a protest leader’s Facebook page, one of the friends released a conversation he said he had with one of the kidnappers.
After the screenshots went viral, Mongkol was released. Mongkol was told he would be released at Thailand’s border. He ran for his life with his head covered in a hood. But he found himself in Samut Prakan, the province where he lived. ISOC has released an announcement denying any involvement in the abduction.
Mongkol ‘Yale’ Sanimethakul, 25, is a protest guard for We Volunteer. He has attended the gatherings on 16 January at Victory Monument, where people wrote comments on a 112-metre long banner to protest against the government, and later at Phaya Thai Police Station and Samyan Mitrtown. A number of fellow protest guards were arrested by police and taken to Region 1 Border Patrol Police headquarters. However, Mongkol had it much worse. He was kidnapped in front of his home in Samut Prakan province.
At 23.20, Mongkol posted on Facebook “Please help.” His friends could not reach him so one of them went to his residence. People there said that the last time they saw him was at 23.00. Mongkol said after his release that there were probably 4 four kidnappers in a van. All of them were men who spoke Thai with a standard accent, except one who spoke in a southern accent.
They took his phone and asked for the password. Out of fear, he gave it to them. They also tried to force him to sign a document which he was not allowed to read. They threatened him not to join any protest again. Mongkol said the process went on like this the whole night. He said his hands and legs were not tied, but he was hooded so he could not see. He was not allowed to go to the toilet. In the morning, they said ‘brother’ just misunderstood. The hood covering his head was changed, but his vision remained just as restricted.
At some point, they returned his phone. He cannot remember when. In the afternoon of 17 January, Mongkol was kicked out of the van. When he was released, he believed that he was at Thailand’s border because they had told them so. Feeling frightened, he ran with the idea of going into the jungle. He forgot to even take off the hood. After running some distance, he took it off. He found himself at Soi Bang Pu 49 in Samut Prakan, the same province where he lived. He called people he trusted to take him to safety.
When he disappeared, members of We Volunteer gathered at ISOC in the morning because a kidnapper, claiming to be one of their officers, sent text messages via Line to threaten Mongkol’s friends. They tried to negotiate his release, but they were warned not to join any protest or encroach on the monarchy again. Parit ‘Penguin’ Chiwarak posted on Facebook a screenshot of the conversation which he said Mongkol’s friend had with the kidnapper. The screenshot of conversation starts at 2.27.
Kidnapper: Will I be able to talk today? This kind of anger.
Mongkol’s Friend: Let me have a phone call with you. Just me. Just me. Just me.
Kidnapper: I had a look at all in your group.
Mongkol’s Friend: Alright, then let me have a phone call with you. [The other end did not answer].
Kidnapper: About what you asked. In short, ISOC. Is there a problem?
Mongkol’s Friend: What? Where is he? [Call cancelled] Where is he? Are you kidnapping him? If you are an official, please identify yourself. [The other end did not answer.]
Kidnapper: Go and look at the Facebook page what you have said. About the monarchy.
Mongkol’s Friend: Then, where is he now? How is he being prosecuted according to law? Where is he now? Sir. Acting like this is not useful at all. What right do you have to abduct people like this?
Kidnapper: I will let him contact you when he signs the document. [The kidnapper later deleted this message]
Mongkol’s Friend: Wait.
Kidnapper: He is fine. [The kidnapper later deleted this message]
Mongkol’s Friend: A lawyer must be with him.
Kidnapper: Don’t worry. [The kidnapper later deleted this message]
Mongkol’s Friend: No, brother. Let him have a lawyer. Brother, just tell me where he is. Just that.
Kidnapper: Pass it on to the people who did something today to be careful. Don’t think that I do not know.
Mongkol’s friend: Do what?
Kidnapper: I have given you too much already.
The conversation went on like this for while. His friend apologized on Mongkol’s behalf if he had overstepped in any way as a way to negotiate his release and questioned if the kidnappers were really the authorities. The kidnapper sent a screenshot of Mongkol’s phone gallery, circling pictures which related to the on-going protests, saying they need to investigate them. They used a classic excuse, saying they did not want to do it, but their superiors ordered them, and the protesters did it to themselves. They said he would be released on Monday during official working hours at some place he could not confirm.
The kidnapper also seemed to send fake messages claiming to come from Mongkol. “I was afraid (crying emoji), but brother did nothing to me.” Two minutes later another message was sent from his phone “Are you okay yet, I already let him answer.” Mongkol’s friend asked “Is it him? I want a video cilp, a picture.” The kidnapper just simply replied “It is him.” On Mongkol’s Facebook post a statement appeared saying “Now I am being taken to be released. It was just a misunderstanding.” After he was released, however, Mongkol said he did not post this message.
In response to the allegation, the ISOC has released a statement saying that until now they have not been assigned to “maintain peace and order and take care of the area to protect the protesters.” They also said that “from preliminary investigations, ISOC would like to confirm that there was no appearance of ISOC units’ involvement in the matter in at all.”
After his release, Mongkol and his friends went to Bangpoo Police Station to file a report, but the police there said that the event occurred in the jurisdiction of Mueang Samut Prakan Police Station. So they went there. During the police investigation in the evening of 17 January, his friends and lawyer asked the police to send Mongkol for a physical and mental health examination.