112 the series: Unchan’s Historic Case of 29 Counts

112 the series: Unchan’s Historic Case of 29 Counts


Translator’s Note: This narrative account of the life and case of Unchan, who was charged with 29 counts of violation of Article 112, was first disseminated in Thai on 13 January 2020. The uncertainty about Unchan’s fate with which the article ends has now become certain. On 19 January 2020, the Criminal Court sentenced her to 87 years in prison, which was halved to 43.5 years since she confessed. This is the longest Article 112 sentenced meted out by the Thai courts to date.


Before social media was widespread, underground radio was an important channel used by political groups used to access news and information difficult to find in the mainstream media. Sometimes disseminated via YouTube or other methods, snippets about the monarchy or exclusive political scoops were used to liven up the programs. “Banpodj,” the pseudonym of a host of a popular program during this period, had tens of thousands of listeners for each episode.


Banpodj’s first clip was disseminated nearly ten years ago (the date and time of dissemination are not clearly displayed on YouTube). Up until 14 December 2020, this clip had been watched at least 101,664 times. By 10 February 2012, “Banpodj” had disseminated hundreds of audio programs via YouTube. On that day, the police announced that they had arrested a person named Hasidin, who acknowledged that he was “DJ Banpodj,” and also arrested at least 15 people they believed to be connected with “Banpodj” or involved in the dissemination of his programs.


Hasadin confessed at the Bangkok Military Court that the voice of “Banpodj” was his and was convicted of violation of one count of Article 112 for creating and disseminating one clip. The Bangkok Military Court sentenced him to 10 years imprisonment, which was halved to 5 years due to his confession. Hasadin was held in custody from 11 February 2015 until he was pardoned and released from prison on 29 December 2016. He was held for a total of 1 year, 10 months, and 19 days. Others whose fates were linked to him in this case were sentenced to similar period of imprisonment and were ultimately all released.


But the fate of Unchan, a former civil servant close to retirement age, turned out to be different. She was arrested and accused of disseminating the voice clips of “Banpodj” that fell within the scope of Article 112. The police piled on a large number of charges related to a total of 29 clips, which were translated to 29 counts of violation of Article 112. Of those connected to “Banpodj,” she faced the harshest set of accusations, and her case is also the Article 112 case with the largest number of charges recorded.


If the court decides that all counts constitute violation of Article 112, the harshest sentence that she could receive is 15 years x 29 counts = imprisonments for 435 years. In truth, the longest sentence the court can hand down is 50 years. Therefore, Unchan decided to fight the case. She was detained while fighting the case, for a total of 3 years, 9 months, and 9 days, from the time that she was arrested and thrown behind bars on 30 January 2015 until her release on bail on 2 November 2018. 


During the over three years in which she was behind bars, Unchan’s dream of her warm, close, post-retirement life with her family fell apart. In the end, all that remained was a solitary life — and one which might be lived inside or outside prison.


Unchan’s Childhood


Unchan was born and raised in Thonburi. Even though her family had a house and some land, they were not wealthy. Her father died when he was only 41, and left her mother, who had just turned 39, to become a single parent with 6 children to look after. At that’s time, Unchan had just completed Grade 3. After finishing secondary school, she chose to study a professional course at Bangna Commercial College. Then, she applied to complete a BA at Ramkhamhaeng University. While studying, she took her professional diploma and applied to work in a civil service office.


When she first applied to study for her BA at Ramkhamhaeng, Unchan applied to study accounting. She subsequently decided to study political science because she thought it would be easier and she would finish more quickly. Transferring faculties caused Unchan to discover another side of herself and her interest in in politics. She began to ask questions such as, why do coups dominate politics in Thailand? She asked the question, “Eh, what is with soldiers?” During that time, she only quietly followed the news, without participating in any activism.


Watching “Banpodj” Clips and Meeting Him


Unchan began to join political demonstrations before the crackdown on red shirt protestors in April-May 2010. After hearing the news from various sources, she went to see for herself. She was not part of a group, so tended to go to the demonstrations on her own. Since her house was far from the demonstrations, she did not go everyday and was not present when the protests were dispersed. Even when she did not attend, though, she followed the news continuously. She was anxious and felt that the red shirts were treated unfairly and disproportionately.


Unchan became familiar with the political analysis programs of “Banpodj” through a red shirt website. She liked the program the first time she heard it because she felt that he analyzed the situation in a compelling manner. He compared the present political situation with the past in ways that were logical and based in reality. So she listened regularly.


Subsequently, fans of “Banpodj” began to meet up to eat and chat together. One of the fans created a Facebook page for listeners to chat with one another. The majority were middle-aged. Unchan and other fans used the page to make plans to chat and eat together. Only the fans were involved, because the person who created the programs was very careful and did not reveal himself. He did not meet with his fans and used a machine to change his voice on the program.


Unchan met the owner of the voice of “Banpodj” only once. She and her husband, who also followed politics and listened to “Banpodj,” went to eat with him and offered to help him manage his finances. He wanted to solicit donations to support the program and Unchan volunteered to set up and look after the financial system for doing so. He welcomed this because Unchan was a civil servant and seemed trustworthy.  Within the fan group, she and her husband were known by the names of “Petch Charan” and “Petch Prakai.”


Arrested and Locked Up


When the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) launched its coup, Unchan was close to retirement. She was looking into businesses to generate income after she retired and was interested in direct sales. In January 2015, during a meeting Unchan set up close to her house to talk about direct sales with friends and other interested parties, many armed soldiers, police, and officials showed up. Those present at the meeting were shocked.


One group of officials walked up and asked if she knew why they were there. Unchan answered, “I know, it’s “Banpodj,” right?” She did not think there could be any other issue. She was arrested and taken to her house. The soldiers told those at the meeting that, “It’s nothing, you people aren’t involved.”


 Unchan said that then the officials threatened her and said, “Do you know that we have been following you for a long time?” When they arrived at her house, Unchan’s computer was still on. When she acted as though she was going to turn off the computer, the officials raced over and forbid her from doing so. They seized the computer, her mobile phone, a broken computer, and even a server with nothing on it that her husband bought and was preparing to resell. 


After finishing the search of the house, the officials took Unchan to the public parking lot where she parked her car. When they finished searching her car, they took her away without giving her the opportunity to even lock her house. All she could do was yell to her neighbors, who were distant relatives, to lock the door for her.  Some of her friends asked to accompany her, but the soldiers would not allow it. When they were close to the military base where they took her, they covered her face with a cloth. She did not know where she was taken.


"The goal of the soldiers was to be able to capture ‘Banpodj,’” Unchan later recalled.


"I slept in a soldier’s dormitory when I was on the military base. When it was time for me to be interrogated, they would come to take me out of the room. The soldiers covered my eyes and put a black bag over my head like they did not want to let me see anything. I could barely breathe. They took it off when they had taken me to the interrogation room.  The interrogation went on for a very long time. A circle of 30-40 police and soldiers surrounded me."


Unchan recalled that on the day that she was arrested, her husband was in the provinces. So he was able to avoid arrest and subsequently go into exile outside the country. That her husband was able to flee, along with the fact that she was the first to be arrested and interrogated, made other people in the network think that she and her husband were spies for the state. This caused her great pain.


"I am not anything like that, at all. All I did was help him sell things and open an account to accept donations. I arranged for t-shirts to be made. ‘Banpodj’ had already said what kind of t-shirts he wanted and advertised them. But I was the one who made the shirts. During that period, “Banpodj” was popular. A lot of fans listened, a lot of soldiers listened. Once the show had a lot of followers and people began to make donations, I arranged and managed the donations for him. What hurts is that ‘Banpodj,’ who is the person who made the program, was only charged with one count. Even though he made over 1000 clips. All I did was share the clips on Facebook."


Hell in Prison


"It is hell. A hell you can see.” Unchan talked about her living conditions for the 3 years and 9 months that she was locked up while the case was being examined. She was remanded to prison on 30 January 2015 after the Military Court ordered the denial of her bail. Unchan said that conditions in prison were truly terrible, “My sense is that we were not human to them. They keep very tight control over us. You cannot do anything. Eating, sleeping, everything is difficult."


"There are so many people in each cell that you cannot sleep on your back. You have to sleep on your side, all packed in together. Actually, at first the cell that I was in was for elderly people. But after awhile, once more people were locked up, it became a cell of all ages.” 


Unchan said that being locked up was the lowest point in her life and she had to undergo a major adjustment. One issue that bothered her a great deal, especially as a former civil servant, is that she could not avoid having to crawl on her knees or stoop down when a warden walked past, just like other prisoners. One was not permitted to stand equal to wardens. “Wardens did not view us as human. They used vulgar language with us. I felt as though some wardens viewed me as they would a worm.” 


Unchan said that when she first entered prison, Kolf (Prontip Mankhong, who was imprisoned for violation of Article 112 for her role in the play, “The Wolf Bride”) helped her and offered advice on how to adapt.


Unchan remembered that later on, she noticed that the wardens seemed uncomfortable when those in for political cases gathered together. She and other political detainees, including Daranee (Da Torpedo), Kolf, and others were followed constantly. The wardens paid attention to whom they ate with and whom they talked with.


After being locked up for 3 years and 9 months, Unchan was released in November 2018. During this period, the policy on Article 112 cases seemed to relax. Unchan said that she knew about the case of Waen-Nattatida, another Article 112 defendant, who was released on bail before her. This gave her hope that she would also be released on bail. She later learned from her lawyer that a court official contacted her lawyer and told them to request bail.


Struggling with Temporary “Freedom”


Even though she received freedom during the waning years of the NCPO, Unchan’s life was no longer the same as before. She had almost nothing left. Many of her assets were seized due to debts that predated her imprisonment. She was unable to continue paying her debt back in regular installments while locked up. So the bank seized her belongings instead. While she was imprisoned, an official from her work unit came to visit her and said she was being investigated for disciplinary action because of the gravity of Article 112 cases. After she was released on bail, Unchan was summoned to report herself and learned that she was not fired, but was “dismissed,” which made her still eligible to receive her pension. However, the dismissal order would not come into effect until her case was finished. Unchan faced the lack of an income and general economic problems.


At the age of 65, Unchan has had to find supplemental income through making snacks and selling shredded pork. She is still practicing making taro desserts. Her grandchildren give her approximately 5000-6000 baht/month. She is able to keep her life going. Today Unchan lives alone. Sometimes she turns on political news from the internet to keep her company. 


"I never thought, ever, that my life would come to this. Before this, my husband and I planned that after we retired, we would live a peaceful life as grandparents. If we were free, we could go visit our children in the United States. But life changed. My husband had to go into exile in France. As for me, I was locked up for nearly four years. Once I got out, there was hardly anything left.  I was a civil servant for my whole life. Nearly 40 years. If the court sentences me to prison, I won’t receive my pension. I won’t receive anything even though all the time I worked I never failed to perform my duties at all.”


"At the time, I didn’t think anything of it. I decided to help because his political analysis program made me feel hopeful about Thai politics, which was going from bad to worse. All I wanted was to help him set up receiving donations and sell shirts so he could continue doing the program. That’s all I was thinking about then, really, simply to help as much as I could." 


When the NCPO ceased to exist, military court cases were transferred back to the civilian courts. Unchan decided to change her plea and confessed. The court has set 19 January 2020 as the date to read the decision. Unchan’s freedom hangs by a thread. But before that day arrives, she must still make and sell taro desserts, sandwiches, and shredded pork with sticky rice to support herself until the court decides her fate.


"My only hope is that the court has compassion for me. I was charged with 29 counts of violation of the law. I have been imprisoned for nearly 4 years. Even though all I did was share clips. ‘Banpodj,’ who is the person who made no less 1000 clips, was only charged with one count. He was locked up briefly, released, and continues to make clips. If I have to go back to prison, as a society, we have to ask, where is the standard of enforcing the law?”


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