In conversation with Tai Pruksakasemsuk: 112-hour hunger strike begins on 11-2
“Tai” or Panitan Prueksakasemsuk, only son of Somyot Pruksakasemsuk and a second year student at the Faculty of Law, Thammasat University, announced last month he would go on a 112-hour hunger strike in front of the Criminal Court, lasting from February 11 to February 16, to call on the judges to “free my Dad.”
The announcement came after seven failed attempts to bail his activist father, Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, and multiple letters of complaint filed with various departments and ministries, which yielded no result. Somyot, accused of lèse majesté as editor of Voice of Taksin magazine, has been detained without bail in Bangkok Remand Prison for 10 months since April 2011. He has been on trial since November in Sa Kaew, Phetchabun, Nakhon Sawan, and in February 13 in Songkhla.
Prachatai talks to Tai Prueksakasemsuk, before his 112-hour hunger strike begins.
What made you decide to go on hunger strike in front of the Criminal Court?
I want to call on the court directly. We want to call for my father’s right to bail. That is the main issue I expect the court to hear. I want them to understand that the point we want to make here is that he deserves the right to bail. It doesn’t mean that we want to change, reverse or abolish the court’s decision. I mean, if the court is to change its decision, it can do so according to its own judgment. I just want to do this to protest the court’s decisions to deny my father’s right to bail, which we have already appealed seven times. This is main thing I want to express, if the court has the mercy to hear us, that is. And if the court is to change its decision, it would have to be entirely up to the court.
Do you get to visit your father in prison often?
I usually go there once a week. If I’m not too busy then I get to visit him quite often. In the beginning we talk about moral support, and then he would ask me about legal matters, facts and the case. I would then take his questions to consult with my lecturers at the university. I also bring friends, people, lecturers who know about my father to visit and give him moral support. Later we talk more about the future of his case, and recently I discussed with him mostly about the hunger strike.
What does he say about your upcoming hunger strike?
He didn’t criticize it much. At first, he disagreed. He thinks this should be used as a last resort. Still, he gave me support and some advice. He’s also quite worried.
When did you become interested in activism? Was it before your father’s arrest?
I became involved in activism way before that. I’ve done many activities both inside and outside campus, just about every kind. Whether they are typical university events, like the traditional football matches, parades, volunteer camps, symbolic political activities, organizing academic seminars or protests about hazing, I’ve done them all. So, any activity that has been available for the past 2 years of my student life, really.
As a law student, how do you feel when the law isn’t applied in reality, like in the case of your Dad, who’s supposed to have the right to bail?
That is according to the law, but not in reality. Reality is something we must practise to make it happen, and in legal terms, it is something we have to consider, whether this is just. If it is, then it must apply to everyone equally, and so in reality it should be that way, too.
I don’t feel anything about it, actually. I feel that it is something that should be fixed, but I don’t feel angry or anything. Even though I feel impassive about this mentally, in my heart I feel that it’s unfair, and we need to fix it, become part of the solution. That’s what I’ve always believed in and what I’ve had in mind. However, I won’t use my emotional feelings to judge or in my work.
So how have you prepared yourself for the hunger strike?
I decided on this before I ordained for a month, so I got to practice fasting during that time, because monks only eat one meal per day. After having completed my period in the monkhood, I started having meetings with student groups, and announced what we plan to do. Then we looked for and talked to different groups that could support the activity and consulted about how we should do it. About two weeks ago I tried fasting for about 2 days, I felt a little dizzy as a result.
But the hunger strike will last four days. Aren’t you afraid bad things could happen?
Not really. I’m not afraid at all. I don’t know, I guess I might be stronger than other people, but I feel that life is just life. If you look at the goal of living, it might matter more. If one gets to do what one likes, then it doesn’t matter if you die today or tomorrow. At least I go about my life in the way that I believe in. It’s like when you say you want to become a musician, and now you’re on the path of getting there. It wouldn’t matter of you get hurt or die. So I just want to focus on the outcome, things that I’ve done. That’s all that matters.
What would you do if the court still won’t release your father?
I might continue to do what is needed, but in what form I’m still not sure because I haven’t had that much experience. I’m only 20 years old, so I would look for advice. In terms of student activism, we’ll see what the priority right now is, and then we can work with each other to support our agenda. It also depends on what the situation looks like.
How much do you expect from the court in this hunger strike?
Of course I expect a lot because it’s been quite exhausting preparing myself for this hunger strike. So I expect this will result in something, whether from society or from the court, whose response will depend on its judgment.
What do you want to say to the court?
I respect your decision, because it’s the principle that I should respect. The court must have free judgment. The fact that whoever wants the court to change its mind can carry out hunger strike, is definitely not right, because that would be against the law. But what I want to point out here is justice. It’s like lighting the spark on the lèse majesté prisoners’ right to bail. I want the court to see this fact, and stop their prejudice, no matter what their political stance or opinion might be. They should rethink what is more important, justice or their political opinion. It’s like I’m reminding the court one more time; how they decide will be up to them.
As a matter of fact, some said this hunger strike is to pressure the court. It is not pressuring. If you want pressure you need political power. But in my case, it is symbolic power.
Personally, how much influence has your father had on you in your activism?
Not that much really. My father doesn’t know much about me. When I was in high school, I was president of the student body, and president at the district level youth council. I did so many activities, but my father doesn’t know much about it. He always said I was too busy playing video games and stayed at home too much. I know this because my father told my friend, Kan Thoop (laughs).
Sometimes he even asked me what year I’m studying now, because he doesn’t know. He had a lot of activities to do outside, and barely stayed at home. However, I respect him a lot for his work to contribute to society. It is some sort of direction for me, but he personally didn’t teach me very much.
So most of your interests you just found by yourself?
I have a lot of sources of inspiration. I really liked the movie “Gandhi”. I also have really good teachers that have also become my advisors. They give me moral support. I also like to read, all kinds of books, especially about politics, capitalism, socialism, Dharma and history. Mostly they are books about society.