Jaruwan: A loss much greater than 85 days

The news of Jaruwan’s lèse majesté case broke in the middle of November 2014. A soldier in the Office of the Judge Advocate General filed a complaint against her and then the police took action. The case was one of “Facebook lèse majesté” in which an allegedly defamatory post had been shared nearly 10,000 times online. A few days later, two men who were friends of Jaruwan were arrested in relation to the case as well. 
 
On 9 February 2015, the military prosecutor dropped the case against Jaruwan and the two others. It is wonderful that the three no longer had to be imprisoned and deprived of their freedom. But before that day came, they were detained for 85 days while the investigation against them took place. They still do not know who made the post with content deemed to be lèse majesté that led to their detention and made them the object of their families’ concern.
 
 
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Jaruwan denied the accusation from the moment that she was arrested and was determined to fight the case in the court. Ball and Chaat made the same decision. But none of the three had any money to hire a lawyer to fight the case in the military court, and this case necessitated special technical expertise because it involved verification of online identity.
 
Jaruwan explained that several weeks before the lèse majesté posting, her Facebook account was hacked and used in a way damaging to her. She had filed a complaint at the Ratchaburi Police Station at the time. This was an important piece of evidence that she could use in fighting the case against her.
 
On 18 November 2014, at around 1 pm, the investigating officials brought Jaruwan to the military court to request permission for the first period of detention. No relatives came to visit her  and she did not have any money to put up to request bail. She did not have a lawyer or legal knowledge, but she stood up and opposed the request for detention. But the court granted permission for her detention and gave the reason that the case was well-known around the kingdom and the court was concerned that she would not be safe if she was released.
 
The next day, Ball and Chaat, the other two defendants in this case, were brought to the military court for a detention hearing.
 
On 28 November 2014, after they had been detained for 12 days, the prison officials brought Jaruwan, Ball, and Chaat to the military court for the second order of detention. Jaruwan said that she felt lonely in prison, even though there were friends to chat with, television to watch, and books to read. She missed her father and her children. When she was asked whether or not she wanted them to visit her, she wavered, because she was well aware that the cost of her father and children traveling to Bangkok would be high.
 
Ball and Chaat met with some hardship in the prison. Prison was especially tough for Ball, who did not understand the accusation against him. Even though he had copies of the relevant documents from the police, he could not read them. It worked out well that when they first arrived, Ball and Chaat were in the same zone of the prison and so they could help each other. The large number of other political prisoners in the men’s prison also helped them.
 
That day, Ball’s father was the only relative who came to visit Ball and Jaruwan at the Bangkok Military Court. But he did not petition for bail since he did not have the money to do so. Ever since his arrest, Chaat had been unable to contact his family. All three detainees came from impoverished families and none had any shred of the resources needed to apply for bail.
 
In January 2015, Jaruwan’s father, one of her older sisters and youngest child made the trip from Phetchabun to visit her and Ball at the Bangkok Military Court. They spent the night with another one of Jaruwan’s older sisters in Khlong Toey.
 
The lawyer told us that her father had to farm and sell beans in order to procure the funds needed to travel to see his daughter in prison. The lawyer had still been unable to contact Chaat’s family.
 
On 10 February 2015, they had spent a total of 85 days in detention. The officials had no legal authority to detain them any longer. The prosecutor had not yet formed an opinion about whether or not to file formal charges. Jaruwan, Ball and Chaat were then released from the prison in Bangkok and their faces lit up with smiles when they regained their freedom.
 
Jaruwan’s older sister took a bus from Phetchabun to pick her up at the Central Women’s Prison. They hugged when they saw each other. Her older sister told Jaruwan that their father was very happy when he heard the news that she was going to be released and asked her to come home to Phetchabun immediately. She could look for a new job after that, since the case caused her to lose her job at the factory in Ratchaburi.
 
Ball’s father traveled from Ratchaburi to pick him up and take him home. No one traveled to meet Chaat to take him home, but he called him family upon his release. Ball and Chaat said that they were going to go home and resume normal life with their families.
 
The case of Jaruwan, Ball, and Chaat is an example of a case of accusation under Article 112 for allegedly posting content on Facebook that falls within the realm of lèse majesté, such as the cases of Pongsak and Chayo.
 
A large segment of the population uses Facebook as a space to communicate and express opinions, and posts on Facebook have now also become a cause of possible imprisonment. The three suspects in the case of Jaruwan were detained for a period of 85 days, even though there was no clear evidence that they committed the alleged crime. This can happen to anyone who uses Facebook, and those around them, in this country.
 
 
 
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