Prasong Panyatham, a 27-year-old homeless scavenger, is among 5 defendants who were arrested by the military in Din Daeng, Bangkok, on 21 May last year. While their trial is underway, his recent no-show has made the other defendants worry that their case might not end anytime soon.
The other four include a taxi driver, a ‘temple boy’, a mute and a painter. They had not known each other until they were brought to a police station after their arrest, and later to court.
They were arrested in the afternoon of 21 May near Wat Taphan or Thatsanarunsunthrikaram Temple in Din Daeng, when security forces took control and searched every house in the area. Weapons were piled up on display in front of them for the security personnel to take photographs.
With help from their families, three of them were granted bail after a couple of months in jail, but Prasong and the temple boy had to remain locked up for nearly a year before being bailed out by lawyers from the Pheu Thai Party in March this year.
They have been prosecuted for violating the Emergency Decree and possessing weapons, of which nearly 30 items are listed in the prosecution’s indictment, including rifles, handguns, ‘ping-pong’ bombs, Molotov cocktails, blades, cleavers, slingshots and metal pellets.
Prachatai visited Prasong in jail a few times. He has a false left eye due to an accident when he was a teenager. He left home when he was young. He said that he used to work in a royal craftsmanship project in pottery for several years, but was sent home to Mae Hong Son because of his unruly behavior and lack of discipline, before running away back to Bangkok again. He then lived homeless under the expressway near the temple.
‘When he was drunk, he told me that his mother died when giving birth, and his father later died of grief. So his relatives considered him a jinx. And he grew up not all there. So he left home. In fact, he has the brain of a child. But he’s just a drunk,’ said Nok Daeng (red bird), a red-shirt woman who has always visited the Klong Prem prison and taken care of those who have no relatives visiting.
According to his own acount, Prasong was arrested while he was walking around looking for food, as all nearby shops were closed. However, his fellow defendants rather believe that he might have been drunk and was rambling about.
Taxi driver Khamsuk Khampho, 46, said that on that day hundreds of soldiers searched the area when he was taking a rest at his rented house. His taxi was parked beside a wall as usual. When the soldiers asked for the car’s owner, he promptly showed up and opened the car for them to search. And they found a metal pipe in the back of the car.
‘I always had it in my car for changing the tyres. The head of the troops picked it up and threw it to the ground, and said that this was a weapon. They then tied my hands behind my back and blindfolded me,’ Khamsuk said.
Afterwards the soldiers took him to a place which he guessed was Soi Rangnam. He was hit with hard objects on his back, abdomen and face. The beating went on intermittently until he was taken to the police in the evening.
He saw nothing, but heard screams of pain let out by people around him, making him aware that other people had been arrested and beaten like him.
The one who might have been beaten the hardest was Chalermpong Klinchampa, who friends called ‘the mute’. According to a witness, he passed out and had to be later carried unconscious to the police station.
Chalermpong, 43, was born mute. He is the first of two children in his family. He is illiterate and does not know sign language as he has never learned anything. His poor family communicates with him by using gesture; sometimes they understand each other and sometimes not. Most of the time, he just nods when anybody asks him anything.
His mother Samruay works as a dish washer at restaurants. She has brought her son to every court hearing without fail. According to her, Chalermpong used to work with a Phra Ram Kao rescue team, and then came to work at Wat Taphan to serve visitors, set tables and wash dishes at funeral services. He does not drink or spend money. He brings his parents hundreds of baht each week. When he did not return home for about a week after his arrest, the mother went looking for him.
‘Oh! My heart was nearly broken. I rented a car to go looking for him. I could not work. Finally, after over a month, I found him in jail,’ she said, adding that people at the temple told her that her son was washing monks’ alms bowls when soldiers arrested him because he had a United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship membership card, though no one knew how he had got it.
‘When his father knew about this, he was very stressed and could not sleep. He complained about his headaches and hardly ate. I told him not to get stressed. Our son will soon be released. He didn’t believe me. He loved this child very much because he’s disabled,’ she said.
Chalermpong’s father had been paralyzed for 7-8 years and died in August last year, before his son was released from jail. Samruay still regrets that their favourite son did not get out in time to attend his father’s funeral.
Prachatai tried to ask him by gesture where on his body he had been hit. He nodded several times, and pointed to his mouth. His mother said that he had lost two teeth. He pointed to his head and back, and acted like he was throwing up. He also made a gesture of putting money out of the pocket and giving it away. He had almost 4 thousand baht which was seized, his mother explained.
Preecha Ngamta, 35, is a ‘temple boy’ at Wat Taphan. He was arrested when 200-300 troops searched the temple and found his red shirts hanging inside his guardian monk’s living quarters where he lived.
‘When they found my two red shirts, one of them kicked me on my chin and asked who else was with me. When I answered that I didn’t know, he kicked me again. At that time, my master had gone out. When they were satisfied with the kicking, they took me to join others at the temple entrance. Weapons were piled up there, and a military photographer took pictures,’ Preecha said.
‘I was also blindfolded and taken to Soi Rangnam. All sorts of things happened to me. I was kicked, and fell into the road. When they were about to take us to police in the evening, they washed us with water,’ Preecha said.
Surachai Bunsermsap, 46, is a local resident who lives next to the temple and worked as a painter for the temple. On that day at about 2.30 pm, soldiers searched his house and found a blade and a strip of red bandanna. They tied his hands behind his back, blindfolded him, and took him to be photographed with the weapons at the temple entrance. He was then taken to another place, and was beaten like the others. He was released on bail in September, and has since worked as a motorcycle taxi driver.
On 3 Aug 2011, after 1 pm, everyone arrived wearily in front of the court room and reported that they had driven taxis and motorcycles in search of Prasong for over two hours, but had not found him.
Chalermpong’s mother who had been waiting in front of the room looked crestfallen, as this would mean that the trial was not going to take place on that day and would have to be postponed because not all the defendants had shown up. And it would also mean that she had lost a day’s wage of 200 baht for no purpose.
The lawyers, their clients and their supporters held a serious discussion about how to find Prasong and hold into him until the next date. They said that on the previous day they had found him and taken him to court for the prosecution witness hearing, and they had told him that he had to come for another hearing today. He promised, but did not come, they said.
They almost came to the conclusion that when they found him they would hand him over to the police to lock him up until the case was over, but they finally decided not to do this because he would be imprisoned for a long time if the prosecution decided to appeal the case.
The next hearing is scheduled for 1 September at 9 am.