Siraphop: The Hunted Poet

No one anticipated that simply expressing one’s political views or penning political poetry would cause one to be hunted down by soldiers. No one anticipated that these things would lead one’s family to live in terror. But this is what happened in Thailand after the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) began televised announcements of lists of those who had to report themselves to military camps for “attitude adjustment.”
On 1 June 2014, Siraphop’s name was among those listed on the television screen. 
Siraphop, whose age is around 50, is a tall, broad, pale man with long hair. He makes a living as a construction contractor.  He and his wife are divorced and he takes care of their three children and one grandson. 
Siraphop has stood against the fomenting of coups since the one in 2006. His view is that a coup is an injustice inflicted by one group of people upon the majority of the country. In addition, the military are also involved in using violence against people within the nation, such as the dispersal of [red shirt] protests [in 2010] in the centre of the capital in which  nearly 100 were injured and thousands were injured.
At the moment that he become aware that he was on the list of those to report himself Siraphop felt that he would not accept the authority of the outrageously-behaving junta. He decided to engage in civil disobedience and not report as ordered by the NCPO.  Siraphop’s intention was to deal with an unfinished contracting job in Songkhla and then request political refugee status from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  
Siraphop felt a great deal of anxiety. He did not know if or how the junta might connect him with the pen name “Rungsila.” He was fairly certain that only two close friends of his knew the truth. This is a question whose answer he has not unraveled up until the present. 
Siraphop had to leave his 16-year-old son and hand over his construction project to others once he began the journey to seek political asylum. Siraphop used his smartphone to contact his children and send daily work orders. He changed his telephone and sim card constantly. He also had to ask his two daughters to fly from Bangkok to Songkhla to take care of their younger brother. His oldest daughter had just graduated from university and her younger sister had just finished her second year.  
 A few days after the summons to report was issued, approximately ten uniformed police raided and searched the construction site. They informed the workers and the owner of the house where they lived that they came to carry out an inspection and search for illegal migrant workers. Then they left. Shortly after that, over thirty armed, uniformed soldiers and more than ten uniformed and plainclothes police raided the house where Siraphop’s children and grandson were living. While this was taking place, Siraphop could not reach his children. Then he contacted the person who hired him to do the contract job, who informed him that his family had been arrested.
Siraphop said that his two daughters were unable to do anything that day. They could only weep and hug each other and his grandson. Only his son was able to keep it together when the soldiers raided the house.
The soldiers and police searched every nook and cranny of the house without finding any weapons or other illegal items. They seized all of the communication equipment in the house: one computer CPU, three 1 TB external hard disks, five smartphones, and one ordinary mobile telephone. And they took the four people present in the house and detained them on a military base.  
“I was anxious when my children were arrested and taken away. And there was nothing I could do other than stew in my own overwhelming suffering,” Siraphop said.
The matter did not end there. At 10.30 pm on 25 June 2014, Siraphop was driving  in the direction of Udon Thani province. As he approached the Kalasin province intersection, a Toyota Fortuner truck pulled crosswise in front of him. Five fully-armed men wearing hoods opened the doors of the truck and jumped out. Another van approached and blocked Siraphop in from behind. Another seven men jumped out and surrounded his car. They appeared fierce and kept their fingers on the triggers of the heavy weapons they carried. They barked at him not to try to fight back, to admit defeat and to get out of the car with his hands up. Then they ordered him to lay down on the ground in the pouring rain.
The hooded men (who were not wearing uniforms) earnestly carried Tavor assault rifles and packed revolvers in their holsters. Radios were strapped to their shoulders. They took Siraphop to be detained at a military camp for seven days. After seven days, he was taken to the Police Crime Suppression Division and charged with not reporting himself as ordered and therefore in violation of NCPO Announcement No. 41/2557.
The military court granted Siraphop bail in the summons to report case. But before he was released, the police took him for further interrogation on an accusation of violating Article 112 and the Computer Crimes Act. Even though the messages in question were written prior to the coup, the violation was considered to be ongoing as they remained posted on the internet. This means that the case was sent to the military court.
Siraphop was charged with disseminating three messages in violation of Article 112. If convicted, this could result in a potential sentence of up to forty-five years. Siraphop confessed that the pen name “Rungsila” belonged to him. He confessed that he was involved with the Facebook account and the website where the messages were posted. But he maintained that the poems he wrote were about ordinary political issues. He talked about unjust power in Thai society, but did not mean the king. Siraphop put up 400,000 baht as a bail request, but the military court denied it given the severity of the charge.  
Even though Siraphop has been detained since the day that the hooded men surrounded his car, he still maintains that he will fight the case all the way.  
Siraphop’s lawyer submitted a petition opposing the placement of the case in the military court as the violation took place before the junta’s announcement extending the jurisdiction of the military court to civilian cases. But the petition was not successful. The military court’s view is that the case would be transferred back and forth between the military and the civilian court [without actually being examined].
Siraphop’s lawyer raised a further petition in the Bangkok Military Court requesting that the matter of whether or not processing civilians in the military court system is in violation of Article 4 of the 2014 Interim Constitution be sent to the Constitutional Court for examination. In response, the Bangkok Military Court ruled that as the military judiciary system is independent, civilians’ rights are not violated when they are processed in the military court. Even though the military court system is under the Ministry of Defense, the judges remain independent. In addition, the Bangkok Military Court does not have the authority to refer matters for examination by the Constitutional Court, as the 2014 Interim Constitution does not address this issue.
In addition to dismissing the petition about the jurisdiction of the court, the Bangkok Military Court further ordered that Siraphop’s Article 112 case be examined in camera. The examination of the case of not reporting following the summons is open to the public, but notes cannot be taken.
Siraphop continues to be held at Bangkok Remand Prison. He has been denied the right to bail while his case is in process. He maintains that he will fight the case using every avenue available. He does not have to accept confession in order to hope for a reduction in punishment. He does not have to request a royal pardon. He hopes that fighting his case will illustrate injustice for society to see.
During the long years while Siraphop fights his case, his three children and grandson must bear the total burden of supporting themselves and paying for their education. There is a significant possibility that given the stalled and blocked political atmosphere, he may spend the rest of his life in prison. Within this atmosphere, military officers who are not law graduates examine and decide cases. And within this atmosphere, a middle-aged man has announced that he will never bow his head and accept authority that he believes is illegitimate. He will stand firm and fight the case against him.
For more details of the case, visit our database.
In addition to the case above, find the other case of him here.
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