Witch hunt for red Joss Stick

Witch hunt for red Joss Stick

Hate mail and threats are the least of her worries. Being shunned by society that has forced a young girl to become persona non grata should be considered cruel and unusual punishment She had to change her name. She was turned away from three universities despite passing the entrance exams. She's hounded by the press and society. It has been more than three years, and the witch hunt continues.

She calls herself ''Joss Stick'', or in Thai karn toop.

Her real name and the name she changed to were revealed to the public by Manager Online, owned by Sondhi Limthongkul, leader of the yellow shirt People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD).

But her name will not be revealed in this space.

Over three years ago, onstage at an event organised by the red shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, a teenage girl made a speech to support ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. She also called on the country's youth to take to the streets. But that wasn't what made her infamous. There have been plenty of people young and old going on stage in support of Thaksin. Her unfortunate saga originated in cyberspace when she was still in high school.

According to reports, more than three years ago she allegedly posted something on her Facebook page that was offensive to the monarchy. To this day, she has not been charged with any crime. But she suffers nonetheless.

Mr Sondhi and his media organisation brought her to trial. The court of public opinion delivered the guilty verdict. PAD supporters and others continue to punish her relentlessly.

Hate mail and threats are the least of her worries. Being shunned by a society that has forced a young girl to become persona non grata should be considered cruel and unusual punishment, especially as she has never been found guilty of any crime in court.

Joss Stick grew up in Ratchaburi province. She was said to be a good student at Rattanarat Bamrung School, but she was kicked out of it. The reason given for her expulsion was that she often criticised the monarchy.

She later graduated from Tanprasartpetch School in Nakhon Ratchasima province.

In 2009, Joss Stick passed the entrance exam at Silpakorn University's Communication and Arts Department.

According to a report by Manager Online, many people contacted the university, complaining of her ''anti-monarchy'' stance and demanding the school not accept her.

Manager Online cited Maneepin Promsuthirak, the department's dean, as saying that despite Joss Stick's passing exam scores, the school deemed her anti-monarchy activities as unfit and therefore her admittance was denied.

Joss Stick later changed her real name and in 2010 passed the entrance exam to Prasarnmitr College.

In a recent interview with Matichon Online _ not to be confused with Manager Online _ Joss Stick said her oral interview was cut short. According to Joss Stick, the school interviewer told her that she knew what she had done and that she should just return home to wait for the interview result.

She was denied entrance to the school.

In that same year, Joss Stick also applied to Kasetsart University. Her opponents created a Facebook page called: ''We are confident that the people of Kaset would not welcome someone who insults Father.''

On the day on which she was due for an oral interview, there was a mob at the university demonstrating against her and Kasetsart. At the same time, about 30-40 red shirts showed up to support her.

Fearing for her own safety, Joss Stick decided not to show up for the interview.

The young girl then disappeared and many people were cheered that they actually had hounded her into hiding, or even out of the country _ there was a rumour that she received a private scholarship to study abroad.

For a while Joss Stick's unfortunate story died, but was then resurrected.

Recently Manager Online learned that Joss Stick is studying at Thammasat University's Social Administration Department.

The media and the people who have been hounding her demanded to know why Thammasat accepted the girl's enrollment.

Here is the response from the university's head, Somkid Lertpaitoon, as taken from Manager Online. ''As for the girl Joss Stick, people have sent me emails. But no one has sent me any facts. Thammasat knew from the beginning who this girl was. When she passed the exam, the school had two meetings to consider her admittance. The conclusion was to admit her. She passed the exam, how could we not let her study? How can we punish her for something she supposedly did before studying at Thammasat? I believe we should not bully a child.''

''Words and behaviour that are aggressive, insulting and derogatory to the royal institution _ are they true? I do not know. Nobody has told me. So we can't presume anything. Not one person has given me any facts. But if it is true, then Thammasat will investigate. To discipline [a student] is a normal thing. But if you were to say this girl cannot study here because of this and that reason, Thammsat cannot accept this. There's liberty in every square inch of Thammasat. If she insulted the King, then she would have been charged. Many people Facebook-ed me, saying this girl did this and that. I ask you this: if she did it, why don't you inform the police? All the teachers at Thammasat agreed that we should accept her. And if she does wrong [while attending Thammasat], then we will handle it according to the rules and regulations of Thammasat.''

In the Matichon Online interview, Joss Stick volunteered that she has had some difficulties with her classmates at Thammasat.

She said everyone knew who she was, that people talked about her and that there were many sarcastic remarks. Some had told her that if she doesn't love the King, she should leave the country. She also claimed that someone once threw a shoe at her, but missed.

When army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha suggested a social boycott of lese majeste offenders, is this what he had in mind?

There isn't much to say here. The story speaks for itself. The words of Thammasat's Dr Somkid already echo this writer's sentiments.

But the story doesn't end here for Joss Stick.

With Manager leading the way in the witch hunt, the police have summoned Joss Stick for questioning. She is due to report on Wednesday. However, she asked for the date to be moved to Feb 11 due to ongoing final examinations.

Is this what our society has come to?

Joss Stick has never been charged with a lese majeste crime. What she supposedly wrote on her Facebook, the public does not know. She has a political stance, which she is entitled to. She's been active politically, as young people often are for better or worse.

But because she supposedly, allegedly used words offensive to the monarchy, she has been not only hounded by society, but victimised in a witch hunt led by a major media organisation, revealing her identity so she could be bullied and harassed. All the while she was underage, her education was jeopardised and now a police summons.

Contact Voranai Vanijaka via email at voranaiv@bangkokpost.co.th

Voranai Vanijaka

Bangkok Post columnist

Voranai Vanijaka is a columnist, Bangkok Post.

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