'Tom Dundee': As Long as We Still Have Each Other

By Manut Longhon

 
A woman rushed out of the wooden bench immediately after the courtroom door was opened. Prison officers in kaki uniform were guarding the alleged offender out of the room. He was a man in his late fifties, his big body with grayish hair high-undercut. He was wearing prisoner uniform—short-sleeved orange shirt and dark purple shorts. Barefoot, he quickly made his way towards who had been waiting. The alleged prisoner lifted his handcuffed arms high up overhead, letting her into the embrace of his arms. Smiles appeared on both’s faces.
 
The image still captivates me until today—when former famous singer “Tom Dundee” is still in the Bangkok Remand Prison, while his beloved wife “Nun” visits him and cheers him up regularly.
 
The first time I met “Uncle Tom” and Nun was in late 2015 at Bangkok Military Court. It was the day of the hearing of plaintiff's witness over the lèse-majesté charge against Uncle Tom. The court ordered a secret trial — only Tom and his lawyer and the prosecutor from the military were allowed to meet the judges, while Nun could only wait outside the room.
 
His case is full of suspicious “facts”. He was first arrested a month after the military coup in June 2014 for not reporting him-self according to the NCPO order. The military, thereafter, released him but went on to capture him once again for the violation of the lèse-majesté law, Section 112, together with the violation of the Computer-realted Crimes Act from the video of his speech at the red shirt rally in November 2013.
 
The military junta announced the Military Court to have jurisdiction over all cases related to the Monarchy that happened after the announcement. However, the case of Uncle Tom was tried at the military court although the speech was given before coup d’etat. The reason given was that the video was available on YouTube until 27 June 2014, which was after the coup; ergo, after the announcement that civilians could also be tried at the military court. Therefore, the case was considered continuous violation.
 
 
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Tom Dundee (Picture from Nun)
 
 
Tom has been remanded in custody since the beginning of the procedure on 10 July 2014. The case is prolonged; it took a year for the plaintiff to start examining the first witness in August 2015. Besides, before starting with the second witness, something unexpected happened. 
 
On 19 October 2015, the prosecutors ordered to prosecute Tom for another lèse-majesté and the Computer Crime Act violation case. Once again, a video is the evidence. This time it was another speech for the red shirts rally. This case was proceeded at the Criminal Court - the normal court for civillians - because the video was up on YouTube until 27 April 2013, which was before the announcement for civilians to be tried at military court by the NCPO.
 
Tom was prosecuted for the same offense from the speeches given in the same period of time; however, the first case was prosecuted at military court and the second at criminal court. Although the second video clip was uploaded only a week after the first, it took a year and three months longer before the second case to be filed. 
 
I met Nun for the first time while she was sitting alone in front of the courtroom at the Bangkok Military Court. I introduced myself and asked if I could sit next to her. The conversation was initiated by me while I could sense cautiousness behind those cheerful smiles. Nun admitted honestly that she did not want to give much information as she feared for the effects from the spread of news. “I have to save myself, too,” she explained. “If something happens to me, then who would take care of Uncle Tom.”
 
We were sitting there for over two hours. We talked about the case and other things. I could feel that the wall between us becoming lower as she started speaking about Tom. 
 
Before Tom was caught, both were living as farmers in Phetchaburi. 
 
“There was no stress living with him. Working, he would scream his lung out singing in the farm,” she said with a smile.
 
Since Tom was captured almost two years ago, Nun has left the farm and been renting a house in Bangkok. She earned her living from selling stuff online. Dur to the fact that she had to visit her husband everyday left the regular jobs out of choice. The journey to the prison would take many hours by public busses, not to mention the time for queuing up, although 20-minute visiting time was all she had with Tom.
 
Nun told me that on the days she could not visit Tom, stress would mount on her. She knew that he would be waiting for a visitor so he could step out of the prison wing. A visitor offered a chance to meet and talk to someone. It must have been a torment waiting for each day to end as there was nothing to do.
 
“Today we meet at the court. It’s once in two months, but it’s good because we can hug. At the prison we’re only allowed to talk through the glass wall.” 
 
Her words stunned me as it showed a glimpse of a positive side when the alleged offender had to come to the military court. Our momentary silence broke when the courtroom door opened. In that moment I saw how happy they were while hugging each other.
 
......
 
I saw both of them again in the beginning of 2016 at the Criminal Court. The detention room is a lot bigger than the one at the military court. The room included many cells. Uncle Tom wore the same uniform, sitting in the second cell with the plate saying “Room for Existing Inmates, General Crime”. The overall atmosphere at the Criminal Court was rather chaotic. Food stands and detention rooms were located in the same area, with many prisoners and visiting relatives each day. At the underground room, conversations between prisoners and relatives could not run smoothly as there were a lot of background noises. The physical distance between the two conversationists seemed like the opposite sides of the road — the one barricaded with double layers of bars and another iron gate.

Nun said that this was her second time at the Criminal Court. The first time happened so suddenly that she could not prepare herself.
 
“That day I went to the prison as usual. The prison guard told me that Tom had gone to the court. I was shocked; I had never been to the Criminal Court before and they never notified me at all. No one knew about it beforehand,” recounted Nun.
 
The trial was open to the public for Tom’s case at the Criminal Court. Relatives and supporters could attend the trial. Uncle Tom was sitting at the frontmost bench in the middle. It was that brief moment before the trial had started when I had a chance to talk to Tom, when Nun called me to sit behind him.
 
I asked about life in prison. Uncle Tom replied that he had been staying at Zone One which was the place for newcomers. He was only remanded, not yet a prisoner, so he did not need to do any work. There were not many options for leisure activities. He chose to compose new songs, read and meditate. Sometimes he was allowed to perform at other prison zones, but some-times he was not allowed by the prison to do so.
 
“Prison is never a place of comfort, so I just had to adapt—not picky for what to eat, how to live, what to ‘understand’—and try not to break any of their rules. I never saw the moon or stars. Everyday the lights were on while awake and asleep. It was bright during the day and bright at night. The space for sleeping is small with always-open shared bathrooms. There used to be 70 people sharing them, but now I am at the section for sick people and the elderly, so there are 27 people using two bathrooms. It’s okay.”
 
When the trial started, Tom insisted to deny all allegations. The public prosecutor announced they would proose 16 witnesses and it would take half year until the first witness is interrogated. 
 
“There is nothing to fear. We manipulate them ourselves; manipulating them to be happy, they are happy; making them ago-nised, then they are so.” These were his last words.
 
The month after, there was another witness hearing at the military court. While we were waiting outside the courtroom as attending the trial was prohibited, Nun showed a picture from her Facebook to me. It was the picture of when Nun and Uncle Tom met for the first time in late 2011. Tom was selling his CDs at the New Year celebration of the red shirts in Minburi. Nun assisted him, and that was the first time they met and talked.
 
“I was already a fan. I’d been listening to his music since I was young, but never had thought I would become his girl-friend.”
 
When asked about her favorite song, she laughed and replied that it was “Sueak Mee Namjai”.
 
“It was the song I’d listened to before we met. He has a strange way of singing slow songs. His voice is not wonderful but unique. It was a masculine heart-broken song and I'm not a sweet woman. I am not well-behaved but quite adventurous. We both hold the same ideology so we cannot leave each other,” she said determinedly.
 
The hearing of the third witness was over because the defendant’s lawyer had not yet crossed-examined the information. Therefore, Tom had to be tried at the military court again two weeks later. I arrived when the officers were taking him out of the prison van to the underground detention room.
 
Tom said he did not feel well—that he might have gallstone which already happened to him once last year. When I asked if he had taken any medication, his response was that it was “paracetamol heals everything” in prison.
 
“[We] have to understand their system. They want to create suffering as a form of punishment for prisoners, but they should think whether I should be penalised in the first place. I only have different thoughts. It does not kill anyone, on the other hand it builds up intelligence. Out-of-the-box thinkers generate social changes. But here they just captured people who think differently and accused them. This is just not right.”
 
“Knowledge in this world is immense and endless. There is no such thing as knowing-it-all. We don’t even know everything inside our minds, so there is no control when it comes to knowledge and thoughts. Only fools would dictate other people’s thoughts because you won’t get anything new,” Uncle Tom said while waiting for the trial on that day. 
 
When a fan came to show support, I let them talk while I just quietly observed.
 
“The longer he stays, the stronger he is. Seeing and knowing things are his lessons and experiences—his materials for music and writing,” Nun said to me. 
 
“You’re still young. You can wait, right?” one of Uncle Tom’s fans asked lightheartedly. 
“Yes,” Nun said with a smile.
 
......
 
In the end of May 2016, I was surprised to receive a message from Nun as I remembered it was still some time until the next appointment. Besides, I usually only got messages from Nun when the appointment date was close. 
 
“Tomorrow Uncle Tom will be tried at Ratchada Court [the Criminal Court]. We can meet there if you are available. Maybe there is a surprise. Let’s hope for the best tomorrow.”
 
The afternoon of 30 May 2016, the news about Tom Dundee pleading guilty appeared on several news agencies’ pages. Nun said they agreed a week before to stop fighting, change the plea to guilty. They saw that the case had been significantly prolonged and there were many effects from that. The more they fought, the more it was likely to be charged with more accusations.
 
“There are really many effects and a lot of lost opportunities to contribute to his family and society—not to mention his health. When there is pressure, his GERD [Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease] returns. Now he might also have gallstone. I’m afraid staying longer would cause health damage because the treatment and prevention are not very good. If you’re not seriously ill, they don’t allow you to go to the hospital and, instead, give you paracetamols.”
 
When asked if she was worried about the verdict, she said no, because she could somehow guess the outcome. The example from previous cases showed how many years in prison the sentences were and how much commutation one could get. For example, cases tried at the Criminal Court mostly ended in five years in prison and commuted to two and a half years. At the military court, however, it could be worse because the standard was ten years. The sooner the verdict was given, the faster they could start appealing for royal pardon which could give some hope for the earlier release. 
 
In terms of the support from people around them, Nun said that most of them supported Tom and agreed he should be able to leave the prison sooner.
 
“They understood that no matter how you tried to fight, with cases related to this law you could never win. They understood, empathised, and didn’t reprimand.”
 
 
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On 1 June 2016, the court proceeded on Tom’s case. The trial started with a question asking if Tom would promise to sing ‘reconciliation songs’ and ‘reforest to honour H.M. the King’ as indicated in the statement attached to the plea. He agreed as the court took everyone in the room to be witnesses. Only then would the announcement of the verdict started. The court did not ‘read’ the pre-written text, but rather ‘explained’ that Tom’s wrongdoings were five counts; namely, three lèse majesté offenses defaming the King, one offense from the defamation of the Queen, and one for posting video clip on YouTube. The Judge assumed that the speech was possibly not continuous, so the lèse majesté case was divided into three counts. However, the Chief Justice and the Deputy Chief Justice both agreed that it should be counted as one count because it was one speech.

 

“Actually, there was a concert on that day, too, right? So, that means after a speech, there was a concert, only then would [you] continue speaking. Normally, people don’t speak continuously for five to six hours,” asked the Judge. Tom, then, explained that he could not remember exactly about that day. However, usually the concert would only start after the whole speech is finished. “Not like [you] spoke nonstop and there wasn’t any music for a pause, right? There might have been a pause. I [the court] haven’t seen the video clip. The CD the police handed out couldn’t be played,” the Judge said with a giggle.

 

In the midst of confusion of every attendant at the trial, the court concluded that the defendant was guilty for three counts. Therefore, the sentence was five years in prison for each counts, making it 15 years in total. However, the punishment is reduced to half—seven years and six months—because the defendants pleaded guilty.

“It is not too much and not too little because the speech was harsh but could not be published. You agreed to sing ‘reconciliation songs’ and reforest, but as for now you can sing for helping the Department of Corrections,” said the Judge.
 

“When [they] notified us the charge, I thought there was only one count. Now today I’m shocked, it was five counts reduced to three,” Nun said to me while walking out of the courtroom. A journalist asked Tom whether he would appeal. He replied, “No, I already got this much even though I pleaded guilty.”

 
Uncle Tom insisted that he would have to plead guilty at the military court as well. The lawyer expressed his concern that the complaint narrated sentences in the speech deemed to be violations —thirteen in total—and he was not sure how many the court would count.
 
“I’m not afraid anymore. There is nothing scarier than one’s own mind. When I sacrifice to fight for the people and the country, I shouldn’t ask for anything in return. I have been acting like a ruler for some time but now it’s time to be a tape measure—being bend-able and does not break. The society is like this, so I have to act like this—fight only as much as you can and compromise, too. Be as much as you can, and go as far as you can,” Tom said peacefully about his future ahead after the sentence turned out to be worse than how he had imagined.  
 
Before being sent back to Bangkok Remand Prison and continue hoping for the unpredictable verdict, Nun said “see you to-morrow” to her husband.
 
Amidst the irony of the juridicial procedures, they are still lucky to have each other.
 
 
 
Read more about Tom Dundee’s first 112 case from our database here
Read more about Tom Dundee’s second 112 case from our database here
See more about 112 The Series here.
 

 

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