Da Torpedo’s life behind bars

Prachatai has made several visits to Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul during her detention in the prison. Here is her life in the lockup, assembled from her own accounts.

Her parents came from China.  They lived at Saphan Khao, Bangkok.  She is the youngest of four children.  Her father worked at a match factory. The family was quite poor.  She earned a degree in political science from Ramkhamhaeng University with the support of her third brother who regularly visits her and buys stuff for her at the prison.

Daranee worked as a political reporter for many years, and knew many politicians, her brother said.  Later, she worked freelance, and became an assistant to a senator who is now Chairperson of a Provincial Administrative Organization.

‘She wants to be a Member of Parliament, a politician,’ he said.

Daranee started a masters at Thammasat’s Faculty of Political Science, but quit because, she said, she was discontented with ‘some systems’ there.  She eventually finished her master’s degree at Krirk University.

In prison, she tried to enrol in Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University which had just provided special courses for inmates.  She asked her brother to get her academic records for the registration, but he could not complete this in time due to a lack of photos of her.

‘My sister is a bookworm. She’s also bright. She can finish a thick book in no time, and get the point,’ her brother said proudly of his sister.

With her interest in political science, Daranee seemed to be bonded to Thammasat University, particularly its founder Pridi Bhanomyong whom she held as a moral support for her life in detention.  She often mentioned him, including on the day of her judgment.

‘I think of Pridi, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Mahatma Gandhi, so that I don’t feel that it’s me alone,’ she said in the cell beneath the Criminal Court, before going up to the court room to hear the verdict on 28 Aug.

Upon learning news of the death on 12 Feb of Supoj Dantrakul, a prolific author of books defending the cause of the People’s Party and its brain Pridi, Daranee went silent, and then sighed, before saying that she had expected her lawyer to ask Supoj to testify in court as her witness, because she had taken materials from his books in her public speeches.

There are many, even among her fellow anti-coup activists, who may not be comfortable with or approve her fiery and aggressive line of rhetoric, which has brought about her nickname ‘Da Torpedo’.

‘Did you actually revile him?’ the lawyer asked when she was testifying in her own defence in the defamation case filed by Gen Saprang Kanlayanamitr, one of the 2006 coup leaders.

Daranee, who had just heard her verdict of 18 years in prison for lèse majesté and was immediately put in the dock on this case, replied unwaveringly:

‘I’d spoken with reason for two years. We’d talked at our wits’ end as to why we had to oppose the coup, and how it damaged the country.  Have they ever listened?  And what happened on that day was the last straw, as the Thai Rak Thai Party was dissolved.’

‘I didn’t address Gen Saprang alone, but also Gen Sonthi, Gen Prem, Gen Vinai, and many others who were involved [in the coup].’

Daranee told Prachatai that she had been politically active since after the coup, giving speeches to small groups of people at Sanam Luang before the red-shirt movement was formed.

Although the democracy movement with a pro-Thaksin banner, or vice versa, has been a cause with which many intellectuals and academics feel uncomfortable, Daranee has been an outright supporter of Thaksin, lauding him as a capable politician whose policies benefit the poor.

‘I’ll support any party with this kind of policies.  If the Democrat Party does good, and wins the elections, I’ll accept it,’ she told Prachatai in the early days in prison.

On judgment day, 28 Aug, her brother, Kittichai, travelled from Phuket as usual to hear the verdict.  He visited his sister as he had usually done while she was held in the cell at the basement of the Criminal Court before being taken up to the court room.  While Daranee could pull a normal face and talk, her brother looked grim.

‘I don’t care any more about yellow or red.  My sister has fought for what she believes in.  She admires [Thaksin] and fights for him.  She’s sacrificed herself.  But when she’s about to drown, no one has ever offered any help.’

In the early days of detention, she felt depressed, complaining that the politicians she supported did not offer any help as she had expected.

‘It would have been better if I had been arrested under the junta’s rule.  But this is our government [Samak Sundaravej].’

‘It’s sad that I am locked up under a democratically elected government. If I’m freed, I’ll probably not get involved in the fight for democracy any more,’ she said at that time.

It seems she was later able to adapt to life inside prison, but she suffered from a molar abscess which caused problems when eating or brushing her teeth.

‘The food is quite bad, insufficient dishes.  And dinner, where people are supposed to eat a lot, is spicy. The time is limited. I can eat only slowly. I’ve already lost 15 kgs.’

There are 50-80 people in her cell. She sometimes had to sleep on her side all night.
Inmates on lèse majesté charges seem to receive special treatment.  In normal practice, inmates are separated and barred from talking to others in their first month in prison.  Daranee was treated like this for three months. 

When she was called to court, she came in a brown uniform with striking red-bordered sleeves, the uniform for serious criminals such as big methamphetamine dealers caught with 10,000 pills or more.

Daranee always asked the court to hold trials for her cases on the same day.

‘Each time I came to the court, I had to go through body cavity searches, before going out and coming back to the prison.  They worry about drugs.  But they don’t consider what kind of case it is.  This is a political case.  I feel really bad.’

Besides the hardships that also included bathing within 30 seconds, or actually the counting of 1-30, Daranee had to struggle to survive among fellow inmates.

Through the year in prison, she had hassles with other inmates. Both sides were punished with no bother of finding out who was in the right or wrong.

According to Daranee, some wardens disliked her, regarded her as a dangerous person, and tried to prevent others from associating with her.  The pressures seemed to increasingly mount upon her after the verdict.

‘The inmates who always want to pick on me have got sort of a boost, because I was found guilty.  The psychological war has grown even more intense.  Many wardens don’t like me.  But there are also many good wardens, particularly the chief warden.  She likes the Democrat Party, but she can talk to me reasonably.  Unfortunately, she’s going to retire this September.  People say, “See who’s going to protect that damn Da.”’

However, as she has been convicted, she will soon be sent to another zone in the prison, where, she said, life would be harder and she would have to be subject to harder work.

As there was no proper channel for the inmates to receive news, on politics in particular, from the outside world, Daranee always asked her visitors about what was going on in politics.

She also became concerned about issues inside the prison. She asked her visitors to bring used books and magazines to donate to the prison library, as the books available there were too old and too few.  Responding to her request, on 30 July a group of activists donated a number of books and magazines which had to be screened by officials to filter out political content.

She also commented on the detention of a number of young women involved in petty drug crimes as a waste of human resources, and the detention of a lot of migrant workers which crowded the prison.

In the last few months, Daranee was promoted to head to take care of her 50-60 cellmates, because she had been able to solve the problem of the malfunctioning 12-year-old gooseneck of the toilet inside the cell.  She called on the wardens to pay attention to it, a venture no one else would dare to take.

She said the task of the head was quite burdensome, as she had to buy pens and paper herself to take notes and write reports, and take care of cellmates, causing her to come late for her meals.  The only privileges were to have one extra tiny personal locker instead of only one and a slightly wider sleeping space.

‘After the verdict, the situation has worsened. Whatever wrong my cellmates have done is blamed on me.’

‘I don’t have high hopes. I just want my case to serve as a historical record for the next generations to learn from, like the case of Pridi.’

‘I’ve done my best. If Thai society still wants to be like this, with no freedom of speaking the truth like this, so be it,’ she said a few hours before the verdict.

Note: Daranee’s words are paraphrased from short notes taken during several visits to prison.

Comments

Depressing reading about what

Depressing reading about what she has to endure, but also uplifting on another level to see that she is prepared to make a stand for what she believes in, and to help others - even if the ultimate benefits may be years away.

Thanks Prachatai for keeping us informed.

It's not depressing at all.

It's not depressing at all. It's inspiring. Certainly we're all saddened by the inhumanity of Daranee's treatment. But knowing the likely results of her actions she undertook them nonetheless. Daranee is a hero. She is demonstrating the heights to which an individual can rise through nothing but her own conviction and consequent action.

The putsch has made a very bad mistake with their oppression of Daranee. Her punishment is absurd and can only be seen as what it is : state-sponsored terrorism, against its own citizens.

I hope that Prachatai makes an update on Daranee a staple of their reporting, at least once a month.

We all need to be reminded of the ongoing courage of Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul. It is instructive to contrast her refusal to sacrifice her principles, her sense of personal responsibility, her actions with those of the rest of us, and to take inspiration from her.

Inspiring, indeed. On the

Inspiring, indeed.

On the other hand, there's no mention of her belief that the Royal family should be murdered if they don't conform with her demands.

It's like talking about hardships of some middle aged detainees at Guantanamo Bay and forgetting to mention that they only want to kill all Americans.

Do you ever wonder why the prison conditions are so uncomfortable? Do you think it might have something to do with trying to convey to inmates that what they did was wrong?

Trep, i think life behind

Trep, i think life behind bars is enough to remind inmates that what they did is considered to be wrong. Its only humane - to make conditions inside those bars as comfortable as possible to respect the basic dignity of a person

Where did she say that???? My

Where did she say that????
My understanding is she just stated the facts about what has happened to monarchy in other countries in the past.

But, Trep, be careful, as you might end up in jail for many years from trying to prove what you think she said (we wouldn't want that would we?:)

It is sad and indeed

It is sad and indeed misplaced to compare Daranee`s fate with the Guantamo inmates. On the other hand, one can only hope that political situation in Thailand will allow for her soon release. I`d feel encouraged if the Thai people in general begin questioning her and similar incarcerations(en masse). Noticeably, this is not the case, at least for now. It doesn`t bode well for the health of nation that so many people are pinning their hopes on petitions on behalf of rather undeserving former leaders instead.

On the other hand, there's no

On the other hand, there's no mention of her belief that the Royal family should be murdered if they don't conform with her demands.

Those are your words in Daranee's mouth. I guess you feel safe enough doing so, she's held incommunicando behind bars, what's she gonna do about it, right?

It's like talking about hardships of some middle aged detainees at Guantanamo Bay and forgetting to mention that they only want to kill all Americans.

This is the same sort of assertion of "fact" as above. And even if your assertions were true, there's no reason to believe they are, what you're charging them with are thought crimes... "her belief"... their "wanting to kill". Throw them Brooklyn Bums in jail for yelling, "Kill the umpire!"... for eighteen years, or time indeterminate.

Most "detainees" in Guantanamo were literally bought by the US government as specimen terrorists, to keep Americans "very frightened" and thus to allow the US "war on terror", actually bald-faced aggression, to continue. They were sold by their enemies in their home countries.

That's the reason they're in Guantanamo. The US government has no case against them. That's the reason the US government "legalized" torture. That's the only way they thought they could build a case against them : torturing people until they signed on the dotted line.

But what are they gonna do about it, right? They're held incommunicando behind bars as well. Might as well slam them too. It's free.

What Darnaee and the inmates of Guantanamo have in common is that they are all political prisoners able to be held only by the suspension of due process.

Daranee was given a lame lawyer, then subjected to a "secret trial". The people in Guantanamo didn't even get a trial... and never will.

If the inmates of Guantanamo were put on trial not only would the crimes of those who have imprisoned them be plain for all to see, but the utter hollowness of the war on terror would become transparent to all as well.

People would realize that not only are George Bush and Dick Cheney war criminals, Barack Obama is a war criminal following right behind them, carefully putting his feet in their tracks for "cover".

Same thing goes for Daranee's secret trial.

>>>Her parents came from

>>>Her parents came from China. The family was quite poor. <<<

Amazing how chinese can just "come" and become Thai. Anyone care to think about this? I started thinking about it while watching the Thai classic movie channel that plays Thai films from the 1960s and before comared to the contemporary Thai movies playing in the cinema today.
the difference in ethnicity is striking. So, again, how is it in our country with its 30 day visa obsession that Chinese can just "come" and magically get Thai citizenship? why are "thai" chinese sending their children to primary chinese language elementary schools? Why was there a branch of TRT in China when taksin was in power. Why, I wonder.

Dear laosuwan, I had noticed

Dear laosuwan, I had noticed something similar, but was always very reluctant to share it with virtually anyone but fellow farangs... It is painful to say but there is no one particular to blame for this myopic vision of Thailand that has become an accepted reality of Thailand over a period of time. It is a common knowledge that it is virtually impossible for long term Caucasian residents of Thailand to acquire right of Thai citizenship, or even permanent residency. Thailand establishment mantra has always been to boast about not being colonized anyone but the realities of today`s world are different and these postulates quickly become rather irrelevant.

Joy, Hobby, etc., may be

Joy, Hobby, etc., may be interested to read Voranai's article in Bkk Post:

http://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/23346/that-which-nourishes-thailand-may-destroy-thailand

It states the case very simply, re. the Thai unwillingness & distaste for engaging in critical discussion. Most foreign teachers have a stock of anecdotes similar to Voranai's first two in this article. He's to be commended for once again speaking the truth.

Thanks michael, i will surely

Thanks michael, i will surely look up the article. Some of what he writes might apply to my own 'Thainess" ( "occasional" rejection of criticisms/negative comments) hehehe:-)
BTW, like u,I'm also very busy these days. when is the last day for yr classes this semester?

Michael: I agree its a good

Michael: I agree its a good article by Voranai, and hopefully it has been translated into Thai:)

Can we accuse him of not being a real thai?

:)

I'd like to introduce a new

I'd like to introduce a new label: He's a 'New Thai.' He certainly can't be called 'not a real Thai'; he's one who has decided to 'get real,' because he's so fed up with the 'Old-school Thais.' :-) He's in the avant-garde! Let's hope he gathers a following.

Joy, thanks for your comments. Good luck with yr end-of-semester pressures. We started exams today. (I always make my senior studes shout 'I can do it!' 3 times before they get their papers, & give them a chocolate after they get the first paper (mine). Anything to destroy the gloom. Holidays soon!