Widow laments society's rifts in farewell to Uncle SMS

100 days on from the death behind bars of Ampon Tangnopakul, his wife says nothing has changed

Religious rites were held yesterday to mark 100 days since the death of lese majeste convict "Uncle SMS", Ampon Tangnopakul, 61, who died in prison.

Rosmalin: Standing firm

The rites were held at Wat Dansamrong in Samut Prakan.

Only a few family members and neighbours showed up, and the media attendance was also low out of respect for the family's expressed wish for a low-profile ceremony.

Better known among his family members and supporters as Ah Kong, Ampon was pronounced dead on May 8 at a Bangkok prison hospital where he was being treated for acute stomach pain resulting from liver cancer.

The cancer had spread from his larynx.

Ampon was sentenced to 20 years in jail on Nov 24 last year for lese majeste.

He was found guilty on four counts under the lese majeste and computer crime laws for sending text messages deemed defamatory to the monarchy. He received five years for each count.

Ampon's supporters said the sentence was too harsh, especially given his age and the fact he was suffering from cancer.

His wife, Rosmalin Tangnopakul, has always insisted on his innocence, saying Ampon didn't even know how to send text messages.

His bail requests during the trial were repeatedly denied. He had planned to seek a royal pardon but he died after starting his jail term.

Ampon's remains will be cremated on Aug 26 at a temple to be announced later.

"I personally would like to keep things as simple as possible," Mrs Rosmalin said at yesterday's ceremony.

"I would like to spread all of [Ampon's] ashes into the sea and tell him that he should let go of everything and be free as he wishes. But other family members prefer to keep some of the ashes for remembrance."

Mrs Rosmalin said her ordeal had made her stronger. "If I don't stand firm, others will be nervous," she said.

"Our family stands firm that Ah Kong was innocent. He was not an aggressive person and could not say anything bad about anyone, not to mention any institutions."

However, she said she did not hold any grudges against anyone.

Recalling the day of her husband's arrest, when a squad of police officers surrounded their rented home in a crowded soi in Samut Prakan province, Mrs Rosmalin said: "It was very gung-ho. More policemen were involved than in an action movie.

"Ah Kong was still asleep. I was startled to learn what had brought the policemen there.

"They trampled all over our small space and our bed with an army of media," she said.

"I thought perhaps they were cracking down on the red shirts. But he joined both [red shirts and yellow shirts] at their rallies, actually."

Mrs Rosmalin said Ampon attended rallies purely out of interest and was not affiliated with any political side.

The media coverage of the raid on their home forced her to move out.

Even some of her children and grandchildren had to change homes or schools as they were made to feel unwelcome by neighbours.

"Society has not changed much with Ah Kong's death," Mrs Rosmalin said.

"When he died, sympathy poured into our family from those who understand us, while abhorrence and wickedness flew from those who had judged Ah Kong without knowing him," she said.

The only thing she felt sorry for was that society had been polarised for too long.

Thais used to co-exist peacefully even if they had different ways of thinking but the colour-coded political wedge has driven them away from each other in recent years, she said.

"No sympathy is spared for any people who think differently to them," Mrs Rosmalin said.

An inquest into Ampon's death has not yet concluded as police are still working on the necessary forensics report.

About the author

Writer: Achara Ashayagachat
Position: Senior Reporter