"Salman": A Judgement and a Farewell

Written by a staff member of iLaw 

Translated by Tyrell Haberkorn

One segment of society tends to conjure an image of prisoners in Article 112 cases as “hard-core red shirts” or “those who want topple the monarchy.” This image causes many people to view the issue of Article 112 cases in line with the thinking of the political wing with which they are aligned. This is the case even though there are prisoners in Article 112 cases who maintain that they love and revere the king and are neither interested nor engaged in political movements. “Ah Kong” was not the only person like this.

I met “Salman” for the first time in September 2013 in the visitor room at the Bangkok Remand Prison. “Salman” had just entered prison after the Appeal Court upheld the judgment against him for violating Article 112 and the Computer Crimes Act by posting inauspicious rumors on the web board of a securities company. “Salman” was suffering from allergies and wearing a mask and I could not see his face clearly. All I knew was that he was tall and his skin was tan. The hair on his head was shaved short like other prisoners.
Our conversation did not proceed very smoothly. A thick plastic barrier separated us, plus there was a language barrier. “Salman” spoke both Thai and English haltingly.
His wife told me afterwards that “Salman” first came to Thailand as a tourist. He liked Thailand and so he traveled back and forth from Saudi Arabia often, until he met a person with whom he fell in love and decided to marry. He then settled down in the northern province that was her home and they had a child together. Once he took up residence in Thailand, he made a living by trading stocks. Even through he was married and lived with a Thai wife, “Salman” still had to travel back and forth between Thailand and Saudi Arabia, in order to visit his ill and elderly mother.
His wife also spoke of his magnanimity. “Salman” donated a large amount of money to build a mosque and frequently fed the impoverished. He sacrificed his time to teach Arabic in interested communities and schools. His explanation was that he lived in Thailand, and so he needed to contribute to Thailand.
“Salman” was not usually interested in politics. He never joined political demonstrations, no matter the group. However, when inauspicious rumors were circulated in the online world at the end of 2010, rumors that were serious enough to make the stock market fall more than 10% in a single day, “Salman” checked the news every day. As an investor who was nearly bankrupt, he anxiously checked the news from foreign websites, including Wikileaks, because he was worried about investing erroneously.
When he saw the rumor on a credible foreign website, he understood it to be true. He then posted a message about it in English on the web board of a securities company that he regularly frequented. Some of his spelling was correct and some was incorrect. He posted the message in order to warn his fellow investors to postpone their investments. He did not want anyone to have to “ get hurt” like him.
He and his family likely never anticipated that their goodwill would cause the life of a foreign man who loved Thailand, loved the Thai people, and loved the Thai king to change completely.
His wife told me that she felt like it was a bad joke that “Salman,” who was always loyal to the institution, was prosecuted for defaming the institution. Before he was charged, “Salman” had brought his wife and small child from their home in the north to Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok to leave well wishes for the king. “Salman” had also sent postcards wishing the king well on his birthday. His wife offered the observation that there were not even very many Thai people with such determination to offer respect that they make the trek to do so, particularly those who live far away.
“Salman” tried to argue in court that he did not intend to defame the king, but posted the aforementioned message solely to warn other investors. His understanding was that what the court judged to be an inauspicious rumor was real news. “Salman” did not have a deep knowledge of the Thai language, and so was unable to crosscheck the international news with official Thai news. “Salman” illustrated his loyalty to the monarchy for the court, noting that he had travelled to leave well wishes for the king at Siriraj hospital. He told the court that he frequently acted in the service of the public good, as compensation for the country’s kindnesses. However, this defense turned out to be a boomerang that came back to wound “Salman.”
In the Appeal Court judgment, the court offered reasoning along the lines that the defendant came into the Kingdom of Thailand, had a Thai wife, always respected and praised the king, and so the defendant therefore was well aware of the king’s status. The message that the defendant brought into a computer system was not true. The message was also one that was inappropriate and caused "irritatation" to His Majesty. Therefore, it desecrated the King’s honor, and constituted defamation. “Salman” was sentenced to 3 years in prison, but he received a reduction by one-third to 2 years.
During the first period that “Salman” was in prison, his wife brought their five-year-old child from the north and rented a house close to the prison. At the beginning, “Salman” and his wife were determined to fight all the way to the Supreme Court. However, he was denied temporary release for the period of the appeal, and as a result of his health problems, in the end the family decided to withdraw the appeal to the Supreme Court and request a royal pardon as quickly as possible. “Salman” was released in January 2014. He was in prison for a total of 206 days.
After he was royally pardoned, the family’s crises did not subside. Under Thai immigration law, foreign persons who are imprisoned are then held to be dangerous and must leave the country immediately following the conclusion of their sentences. “Salman" was banned from entering the country for a minimum of 5 years. "Salman," his wife, and their young child had to travel back and forth between Bangkok and their home in the north once a month to ask for an exception to be made and for permission to remain in the kingdom.
At the end of April 2014, I met “Salman” for the first time since his release from prison. He had come to Bangkok to submit a petition for the exception to be made. Without a plastic partition between us, we communicated more smoothly than before. During our conversation, I sensed his acceptance of his family’s fate. But I could also feel that they secretly hoped that they would be able to continue to live together as mother, father, and child, even though the possibility seemed slim.
We talked for a pretty long time that day. After we updated each other on life, the case, and immigration rights, I had to excuse myself to leave due to an overload of work. Another friend stayed to go eat a late meal with "Salman" and his family.
Miracles do not often magically appear. The clemency came to an end in November 2014. In his wife’s account of the day that “Salman” left the country, he was handcuffed in the Immigration Police truck, as if he was a criminal.
151 112 The Series: Salman
More than half a year has passed since “Salman” and his family were forced apart. I hope that they will be together again soon. And I regret that I did not accept the invitation to share a meal with them when we last met. If I had, I would have likely gotten to know the man named “Salman” much better.
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