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How a Facebook User in Thailand Was Sentenced to 50 Years in Jail for ‘Defaming’ the Monarchy

Kai speaks about the case of her husband who is in jail for 'defaming' the monarchy. Photo from Prachatai

Kai speaks about the case of her husband who is in jail for ‘defaming’ the monarchy. Photo from Prachatai

This is a version of an article written by Metta Wongwat about the testimony of a wife of a lèse majesté (anti-royal insult law) prisoner in Thailand. Some critics believe the lese majeste law is already outdated but the government insists it is necessary to protect the monarchy. This article is published on Global Voices as a part of a content-sharing agreement.

Tiensutham S., aka Yai Daengdueat, 58-years-old, graduated from a top-tier Thai university with a degree in chemical engineering and worked as a consultant to a number of large companies and construction projects.

Tiensutham was arrested at home on 18 December 2014 by dozens of plain-clothes military and police and taken with his wife to a military base for questioning. His wife was released, but Tiensutham was held and an arrest warrant was approved by a military court on 22 December. He was jailed the following day.

Military prosecutors charged him with five counts of defaming the monarchy based on Facebook posts written between July and the end of November last year. He confessed his guilt and on 31 March, 2015 was sentenced to 50 years prison, reduced to 25 as a result of his confession. Because of the length of the sentence, Tiensutham was moved from Bangkok Remand Prison to Khlong Prem Central Prison.

The details of the case are available on iLaw. This is the longest sentence ever handed down for defamation of the monarchy, exceeding previous records of 34 years for a former head of the Office of the Chief of Staff for the Crown Prince (no details available), and 30 years for a musician (reduced to 15 years, details here).

In the course of the arrest and investigation, the wife of Tiensutham, nicknamed Kai was forced to sign over Facebook accounts of interest to military personnel. She chose not to come forward, hoping that her silence might lessen her husband’s sentence. She only recently agreed to speak publicly.

Kai recounted their ordeal, with frequent interruptions for tears, as follows:

1. The Arrest

He had never participated in any demonstrations. He’s a cyber-warrior who cannot abide falsehood. He didn’t only read Thai news but attended to international affairs and loves democracy. During the prosperity of the Thaksin government he made good money and all his business moves were successful. Following the coup, however, things went sour and business dried up and he could find no work. He became anxious and upset and began to spend much more time on Facebook. Previously, he worked as a management consultant, bringing in hundreds of thousands of baht a month, with many companies seeking his services. He is an expert manager, although his degree is in engineering. He had constant work and was loved by his subordinates.

He used Facebook for a long time and the military says that they monitored him for at least three years. He made many posts. You can look at Facebook and find humorous posts. After the coup he heavily criticized the military, putting up graphics accusing them of deceiving the people. After his arrest, the military froze but did not close his Facebook account; they had us both sign over our Facebook accounts. They use the accounts to trick [others] via private messaging. But now everyone knows. At first, we suspected that we were among many who were detained at the military base.

They all came into the house. They were covered in dark shirts and didn’t show any badges. They were all out of uniform, both soldiers and police. Afterwards a soldier in camouflage drove up, entered [the house] and saw a photo of a child we are caring for who is in the cadet school. They were shocked and asked how the troops there could consider him a brother. He said that they would take everyone’s computers, iPhones, telephones, everything from the drawers and he took us both to the camp.

2. The Judgment

I was wrong in thinking that we weren’t news. First, Yai was just an ordinary citizen. Second, he wasn’t a leader or famous; he didn’t stand out in any way. If I raised an outcry that might rouse anger and he might receive a harsher sentence. If I were quiet [I thought] the sentence might be mild. Then he was sentenced. If I knew it was going to be like this I would have liked to have been in the news.

We borrowed 50,000 from relatives, added to the 20,000 in the bank that’s all we have. I tried to post bail with it four times without success.

The judgment was given in camera in the courtroom and I was not allowed in. Everyone but the lawyer had to wait outside. But the court read the verdict very quickly afterwards.

When Yai and the lawyer came out of the room I watched his face to guess what had happened. He shook his head. I didn’t think it would be so bad. I thought maybe three years per count, but I understood from his shaking his head that it was five. I asked. Tears welled up in Yai’s eyes and he said “Fifty years.” I was stunned, but a crowd was gathering in front of the room and he was taken downstairs. He said to wait and he’d tell me what happened.

3. Effects

With him here we could do almost anything. With just me, the family is incomplete. I only had a little education, but Yai has much learning and is a great benefit for both my children. He was expected to go far. I don’t know much about education, but I’m good at buying and selling. Yai taught me English, taught us a great deal so that we didn’t have to spend money on special schools. Now we don’t have him and I can’t afford special schools. I have nothing to give the children. It’s all over.

My children were never before interested in politics. We didn’t get involved. But now they question everything. They have more opinions than I do. They say, “Facebook belongs to another country, how can they arrest Father? Father didn’t kill anybody; the judgment is excessive.” As a result they’ve been trying to learn why their father is being punished so severely. Every day now they look for things to read. This is an effect of loss and pain, and intensifies their anger. I worry. I don’t want them to think that way. I tell them to concentrate on school and not get involved in politics; I’ve got no one.

4. At the Prison

We haven’t yet requested a royal pardon. We’re waiting for him to achieve the status of first-grade prisoner. He’s now in the middle rank. He is teaching English to the other prisoners and the prison personnel see that he has both English and computer knowledge. This should help him to attain first-grade status.

Visits at Klong Prem Central Prison? I don’t like to talk about it, but I have to tell the worst. I really detest the body checks. Aren’t there devices they can use? Do they have to grope with their hands [she brought her hand up as though to grope her breasts]? They’re females, but I still don’t like it. They grab everything. You can’t take in money. You can’t take in a notepad; you have to tear out a single sheet of paper.

Visits are limited to 30 minutes, but it’s not like Bangkok Remand Prison where there are private visits. Here it’s a competition. They let a hundred, two hundred relatives in at once. Then there’s a glass shield separating the relatives five meters from the prisoners. You talk by telephone; they can’t really see each other. There are reflections on the glass any you have to lean this way and that to get a glimpse.

Yai seems to be in better spirits, but I wonder if he’s in bad shape deep down. We can’t say much. Lèse majesté cases have both supporters and opponents there [in the prison]; when is asked [by other prisoners] he just says that he violated the computer crimes act.

Since 18 December [the day of the arrest] I’ve had no day without tears. But the tears have changed. At first I sobbed. Now the tears fall quietly.

For the past five months I have not missed a single visiting day. Do I have a wish? Just a little. If he is released that will be the greatest joy. I want everyone to have such joy. But he is suffering now.

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