Pai's detention is threatening to backfire

Pai's detention is threatening to backfire

Individual letters and group petitions were presented when university scholars gathered Jan 30 to ask the Supreme Court president to approve the temporary release of lese majeste suspect Jatupat 'Pai Dao Din' Boonpattararaksa. (Photo by Pattanapong Hirunard)
Individual letters and group petitions were presented when university scholars gathered Jan 30 to ask the Supreme Court president to approve the temporary release of lese majeste suspect Jatupat 'Pai Dao Din' Boonpattararaksa. (Photo by Pattanapong Hirunard)

When you put a lid on a pot of boiling water, you know what's going to happen. The steam will build up pressure inside the pot and pretty soon some steam will escape along a crack. Absent any crack, soon you'll see an explosion.

Pai Dao Din, or Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, who has been languishing in jail now for more than a month, is a case of steam that escaped the pot but was then forced back into it.

And this happened simply because Pai shared a BBC Thai article on the life of His Majesty the King. Over 2,800 other individuals did something similar, but only Pai is facing the wrath of the lese majeste law.

The only difference is that while others merely shared the post without comments, Pai extracted a passage from the article and added it on top of the link.

Wasant Techawongtham is former News Editor, Bangkok Post.

The following day, a military officer in Khon Kaen where Pai lives filed a police complaint accusing him of lese majeste.

Since then he has been forced to go through the labyrinthine Thai legal system that defies both logic and sense of justice.

Initially his family was not told where he was being taken into custody, and police confiscated his mobile phone without officially making a note of it.

A day after his arrest, the court allowed him out on bail because he did not pose a flight risk. But two weeks later, the police asked the provincial court to revoke bail, citing as a reason one of his Facebook posts for showing belligerency and mocking the authorities.

His lawyers argued in court that Pai had complied with all bail conditions and that the court had not made expression through social media a restriction.

In revoking his bail, the court ruled that Pai had not deleted the Facebook post that was the subject of his being charged in addition to posting another mocking the authorities for "causing damage to the country", and that he was prone to recidivism.

The ruling was baffling to Pai's lawyers who pointed out that to delete the post would have constituted an attempt to destroy evidence and therefore interfere in the legal investigation.

On Dec 26, the court granted a police request to further detain Pai beyond the initial detention period. Pai's parents protested that he was not informed of the police's action as is legally required, and that the hearing was conducted through video conference without the presence of his lawyers.

Despite the setbacks, his lawyers continued to seek bail for his release all the way to the Supreme Court, citing his need to sit his final exam to graduate from university. But all were in vain.

Meanwhile, the police investigators were successful in their requests to extend Pai's detention, citing their need for time to question more witnesses. Each detention period lasts 12 days.

His lawyers' argument that he posed no flight risk and that the witnesses issue did not justify his detention was ruled as irrelevant.

At the hearing for the police's latest request for a detention extension, the judge inexplicably cleared the courtroom to hold a closed hearing.

Grievously upset by the move, Pai's mother declared that she would seek justice for her son with her life before launching herself against a courtroom wall. She was restrained by friends before she could injure herself further. The hearing went on behind closed doors.

Lack of space does not allow delving into further details of the case. Suffice it to say that, from an outsider's point of view, it looks as if legal blocks have been deliberately placed in the way of Pai's defence to subjugate him and make his case an example to deter others from undertaking any kind of activities in defiance of the ruling clique.

Section 112 of the Criminal Code -- known as the lese majeste law -- is once again used as a tool to suppress a dissenter against the regime. This is an effective law -- from the authorities' point of view -- against dissent because under this law the legal principle of "an accused being innocent until proven guilty" is rendered moot.

Very few defendants charged under Section 112 are granted bail or escape a jail sentence, and a pattern has lately emerged of a tendency by courts to impose harsh sentences.

However, this commentary is not about Section 112 per se but about the absence of simple justice in this particular case.

This is a case best expressed by a Thai saying: "Killing a chicken for the monkeys to see".

But the authorities ought to be careful because the monkeys may learn an unintended lesson and the killing may give them even more reasons to rebel.

In other words, keeping Pai in jail may make him into a stronger symbol of resistance.

Today, the police are again expected to ask the court to keep Pai in jail for another period. That's a terrible idea. It will only lead to more heartache for his parents, stir up protests and deepen dissent.

A better idea is to free Pai now.

Wasant Techawongtham

Freelance Reporter

Freelance Reporter and Managing Editor of Milky Way Press.

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