On 18 January, the Criminal Court on Ratchadaphisek Road in Bangkok sentenced poet ‘Rungsila’ to 4 years and 6 months in jail for posting poems and cartoons judged to be lèse majesté. He was jailed for 4 years and 11 months during his trial in a military court, so he has no more time to serve. However, he said he would fight on for justice in the Court of Appeals, believing that Section 112 was an instrument used to attack political opponents.
Rungsila is a penname of the poet, cartoonist and blogger Siraphop (surname withheld). The court acquitted him over a poem on the Prachatai webboard citing benefit of the doubt but convicted him for two other posts, including a lèse majesté cartoon of the late King Bhumibol on Facebook in December 2012, and an article about the roots of the Boworadet rebellion and its lingering legacy on Blogspot in January 2014.
The court sentenced him to 3 years on each charge for which he was found guilty, or 6 years in total, but as he gave useful testimony, the court reduced the sentence to 4 years and 6 months. The court also ruled that since he was detained during his trial in the military court for longer than the sentence given, he does not have to return to jail. Observers from international organizations and diplomats from the German, Austrian, and Luxemburg embassies were present to hear the verdict.
During 4 years and 11 months in detention, only 3 witness were called to give testimony in the military court trial. He was denied bail 7 times and eventually released temporarily in 2019 thanks to the revocation the NCPO order on trying civilians in national security cases in military courts and the subsequent transfer of the case to a civilian court. The revocation came in the wake of pressure from protesters to hold an election, and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s call for his release.
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported that he was arrested in June 2014, one month after the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) staged a military putsch. He was driving in Kalasin province to flee the country when a dozen men in hoods and heavy weapons intercepted him. With their fingers on the triggers, they took him to Siharat Dechochai Army Base, Khon Kaen Province, where he was detained for one day. He was then taken to Bangkok and detained for a further 7 days.
One day before he was arrested, 30 soldiers with weapons raided his home in Songkhla where his three children and grandchild were staying. Two of his children were still in school and university, and his grandchild was only 10 months old. His children and grandchild were taken to a military camp. His electronic devices were seized at his home. Rungsila’s political work was only a hobby. Siraphop was the main source of income for his family, working as a construction contractor.
Initially, he was charged for not reporting in response to an NCPO order. He was bailed out while on trial for that case. However, he was re-arrested immediately by the Technology Crime Suppression Division for posting the 3 allegedly lèse majesté statements. He remained in detention until June 2019. He could have confessed to shorten his sentence, but he insisted he was innocent and ready to die in this fight as he told the TLHR.
“I was ready to die in jail. It does not matter even if I die, because I do not have weapons, I do not have guns, I have only my life. Are they willing to trade with me? I can lose only one life, it does not mean anything. But if you lose, you lose everything. I think of it this way. So it does not matter, I don’t care. I’m willing to sacrifice my life. Otherwise, how could I last for 5 years? If I am afraid to die, then it’s over.”
In his testimony to the military court Rungsila said that he did not report to the NCPO as an act of civil disobedience against the military coup and to defend democracy in Thailand. The military court found him guilty and suspended his sentence of 2 years. The right to defy a military coup was protected under the 2007 Constitution, but this was torn up by the military coup in May 2014.
After the sentence, he said that he would appeal. He believed cases which started in military courts should be nullified. The decision whether to prosecute or not should reside with civilian prosecutors, not the military courts. While he was in jail, he wrote poems and articles to cope with the dehumanization. After he was released, he wanted to make sure that no one has to face injustice like him again.
“I said to myself that in this fight, at least, don’t let it go to waste so that others do not have to fall into the same circumstances as me, to be pressured, detained, detained and forgotten, destroyed. Everything was ruined, including my family situation, economic status, occupation, humanity. I do not want anything like this to happen to anyone again, not even to a single person, I do not want it.”