PHNOM PENH : Thai Patriots Network activist Ratree Pipattanapaiboon was set free and returned to Thailand on Friday night after spending two years and one month in Cambodia's Prey Sar prison.
A relative embraces Thai Patriots Network activist Ratree Pipattanapaiboon as she arrives at Suvarnabhumi airport after being given a royal pardon and freed from Cambodia’s Prey Sar prison. The network’s leader Veera Somkwamkid, inset, remains in jail although he was granted a six-month reduction to his term. PANUMAS SANGUANWONG/REUTERS
Ms Ratree was met at the prison gate by members of her family and officials from the Thai Foreign Ministry who accompanied her on the flight home last night.
Ms Ratree was released from the prison about 4pm after the royal decree to grant her a royal pardon came into effect yesterday afternoon.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen granted the pardon to Ms Ratree and reduced the prison term for the network leader Veera Somkwamkid by six months on the occasion of the royal funeral of former King Norodom Sihanouk, which began yesterday and which is scheduled to last until Monday.
The royal ceremony included the reading of the pardon and jail term reduction decrees by Cambodia's Interior Minister Nuth Sa An to Ms Ratree and Veera. Both kneeled in front of portraits of the late former King Sihanouk and the current King Norodom Sihamoni. The minister then gave the royal decrees to the two Thais.
A total of 32 prisoners, including Veera and Ms Ratree, attended the royal pardon ceremony yesterday.
Ms Ratree and Veera were arrested along with five other Thais including then Democrat MP Panich Vikitsreth on Dec 29, 2010 while inspecting a disputed border area near Sa Kaeo's Ban Nongchan. Veera and Ms Ratree were sentenced to eight and six years in jail respectively for illegal entry, spying and entering a restricted military zone without permission.
Upon her release, Ms Ratree thanked the Cambodian government but said she could not smile fully yet.
"How can I be happy when my friend is still inside the prison?" Ms Ratree said, referring to Veera who will have to remain in jail for another five years and six months after the term reduction.
Asked what would she say to her parents on meeting them for the first time after her release, Ms Ratree said in tears: "I will tell them I'm back home. There's nothing to worry about."
A large crowd, including Mr Panich, greeted Ms Ratree upon her arrival at Suvarnabhumi airport.
She told reporters that she had done the right thing for the country and that she had fought very hard during her detention in Prey Sar.
She said she had lost about 5kg and was considering writing a book about her time spent in the Cambodian jail.
Veera said yesterday he would lodge an appeal to be considered for a prisoner transfer programme to spend the rest of his jail term in Thailand from the end of this month.
That would mark him having served one-third of his sentence, which is a condition for making the request.
Veera asked Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to show her sympathy for him and his family, especially his mother, by helping him, adding he believed he was acting in Thailand's best interests when he was arrested.
Suwat Kaewsook, director of the Department of Consular Affairs' Protection of Thai Nationals Abroad Division, said the authorities will continue to help Veera.
Mr Suwat believed Thai-Cambodian relations will continue to improve following Ms Ratree's release and Veera's jail term reduction.
Veera's mother Wilaiwan Somkwamkid said yesterday she would like Hun Sen to consider granting her son parole in the same way that he had shown clemency to Ms Ratree.
"As a mother I feel so much pain in my heart when I see my son is still behind bars," Mrs Wilaiwan said. She said she is worried about Veera's health.
"My own health is also deteriorating. I don't know how many times I can continue to travel to visit my son in Cambodia if he has to stay in jail for a long time," she said.
She said she would like Phnom Penh to consider whether Veera can be included in the Thai-Cambodian prisoner swap programme which will at least let her son serve the rest of his term on home soil.
Veera's wife Khwan Somkwamkid said she and her mother in-law wanted to use the opportunity of Ms Ratree's release to ask for sympathy from Phnom Penh to help free her husband.
"I miss him so much. Veera wants to come back to Thailand," she said.
About the author
- Writer: Anucha Charoenpo