Now a free man
After serving about 2 years and 4 months in prison, Nat Sattayapornpisut was released on 19 April this year. He was jailed for sending e-mails to a foreign friend containing links to some materials available on the internet deemed offensive to the Thai monarchy.
Now 29 years old, he was born and lived in Bangkok. When he was two years old, his father committed suicide due to business failures, and, twenty years later, his mother died from cancer. All he has left of his family is his younger brother, his grandma who raised him, and some distant relatives.
He enrolled in a college to study finance and banking, but dropped out due to a dislike of classrooms since childhood. He turned to e-commerce and was attracted to politics after the coup in 2006, as he was curious to know what had happened behind the scenes, and that led him to delve into information from various sources on the internet.
He never attended any political rallies or got involved with any political parties. He enthusiastically followed political news and information particularly from the Same Sky (Fah Diew Kan) webboard (currently http://www.konmuankan.com), which was a pioneer of political internet forums discussing the monarchy at the time.
In mid-2009, he sent e-mails containing links to video clips and photographs of certain members of the Thai royal family, which had been available on the internet, to Emilio Esteban, an Englishman living in Spain, whom he had gotten to know via the internet. And the man, using the alias ‘stoplesemajeste’, then posted the materials on his website.
In their investigation into the case of Suwicha Thakor, arrested in January 2009, who had been found to have a connection to Esteban, the Department of Special Investigation and the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology sent their officials to interrogate Esteban in Spain. Although they could not take any legal action against him, they managed to gain access to his e-mail account and found Nat’s e-mails.
On 13 Oct 2009, Nat was arrested by the DSI at his apartment. By his own account, that afternoon he heard unusually loud knocks on his door, and when he opened the door, he found about 10 men and women dressed in office suits. He was shown an arrest warrant and was notified of his crime. He felt alarmed and was handcuffed. The officials searched his room and seized his documents, CDs, computers, diaries, and notebooks.
He was taken to DSI headquarters and charged with offences under the 2007 Computer Crimes Act—disseminating pornographic materials through the internet. He was detained at the DSI for two nights, and during long interrogation sessions he was asked details of his internet usage, including how to access his e-mail account.
He was sent to Bangkok Remand Prison, and spent another 12 nights there before being bailed out by his relatives with 200,000 baht in cash.
One month later, he was summoned to the DSI, and was further charged with lèse majesté.
On 14 Dec 2009, a day he well remembered as it was one of the worst days in his life, he went to a court appointment, alone and without any lawyer, as he had no idea who he could turn to in this kind of case. He was asked by court officials what he had decided to do in his case, and was told that if he confessed, a verdict would be delivered right away.
He was totally in the dark, and he was well aware that this kind of case was almost impossible to fight. His brain worked hard to speculate what penalty he would be given and how much it would be commuted if he confessed.
Finally, he decided to confess, as he had no idea what else to do.
That day, the court found him guilty on three counts for sending three e-mails on 22-23 July 2009, and sentenced him to 9 years in prison, but reduced the term by half as he had pleaded guilty.
‘The judge read a brief verdict, saying that the punishment for the defendant was 4 years and 6 months in prison. I was shocked and speechless. The judge had to repeat the sentence, because he saw me not understanding, pale and standing still. I was thinking of myself imprisoned for years. Court officials then took me to a cell. I felt awful and frightened,’ he says.
He was imprisoned at Zone 4 of Bangkok Remand Prison, and had to produce 5 kgs of paper cups every day for more than half of the first year. Despite an official claim that convicts do the work in order to lessen the stress of being imprisoned, he felt even more stressed from being forced to do this work.
In the middle of 2010, he was recruited as a convict staff member of the prison’s education department to teach computer skills to other prisoners.
He felt that his time in prison was the lowest point in his life. He could never adapt to life inside, because of his habit of being alone in his own world. Life in prison is like being in school and a marketplace all the time, noisy and crowded, he says.
‘During the first days, I thought that I would die there. I never thought that I would make it, but I survived the torment. I could never adapt to life in prison. I was depressed and it always showed on my face. Many inmates asked me if I would make it, he says.
He was visited by his younger brother and grandma once in a while, but not by other relatives. He used to contemplate suicide but finally endured and behaved well until he was promoted to the status of excellent prisoner.
During his time, he got to know other ‘Section 112’ prisoners, starting with Wanchai who was in the same zone, Warawut Thanangkorn who was moved to the zone in early 2011, and then Thanthawut Thaweewarodomkul. It was Thanthawut who told visitors about Nat and Wanchai. As a result, from mid-2011 onward, Nat, who had previously been rarely visited, had more visitors, including red shirts and other concerned people, and that lifted his spirits.
Lèse majesté prisoners have an even harder life in prison. Although many other prisoners are sympathetic and perceive the punishment as too harsh, some regard lèse majesté prisoners as evil, despising them and cursing them to their face. Some say that they are wicked and worthless and that lèse majesté is worse than raping and killing. Some officials use foul language and treat them in a dehumanizing way.
‘I’d have to kneel down, while they’d stand. Prisoners and officials belong to different castes. When they file records for new prisoners, prisoners sit on the floor and officials sit on chairs. To sit on the floor in front of them makes us pity ourselves. And they speak to us disparagingly and rudely,’ Nat says.
As an exemplary prisoner, his jail term was reduced on two occasions involving royal events, and he was released on 19 April 2012.
He had to report regularly to the court while on probation, until he recently received a ‘Certificate of Innocence’* from the prison, which guarantees that he has completely served his punishment.
He has returned to the prison to visit his friends, and feels bad that they are still in there.
Original article in Thai by Nopphon Achamat
* Note: There is a difficulty with the translation. Nat received a ‘ใบบริสุทธิ์’ from the authorities after completing his punishment (when his period of imprisonment was less than the sentence by the court due to remissions for good behaviour). As the article states, this certificate is a guarantee ‘that he has completely served his punishment’. It does not mean that he was found not guilty by the courts; his conviction has not been overturned (or even appealed).
‘บริสุทธิ์’ is defined in the dictionaries as ‘pure, innocent, blameless, flawless, virgin’. Perhaps ‘Certificate of Purification’ might be a less misleading, if somewhat strange, translation.
Update: Frank G Anderson has provided Prachatai with an example of ใบบริสุทธิ์, together with his translation and explanation.
The form was provided to Frank G Anderson on 9 August 2012 by the Central Prison staff at Nakhonratchasima meung district.