Ah Kong's death shakes inmates
The death of lese majeste convict Ampon Tangnoppakul, or Ah Kong, has been a shock to his fellow inmates convicted of the same charge in Bangkok Remand Prison, many of whom wear a small piece of black cloth in mourning.
Sathien (last name withheld), who was sentenced to six years in prison and fined 100,000 baht _ reduced by half _ for his lese majeste offence, said he was sorry to hear about Ah Kong's death.
The Sa Kaeo native, who joined protests led by the red shirt United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), said the government, traditionally a supporter of the red shirt cause, did not pay adequate attention to lese majeste inmates.
Joe Gordon, a US citizen of Thai origin, said it was unbelievable that Ah Kong had died. "He looked even healthier than me. If he was transferred to a temporary prison or bailed out, he should not have died such an untimely death," said Joe, 55, who himself suffers from rheumatism.
Gordon said Ah Kong's death has sparked a debate over Section 112 of the Criminal Code, the lese majeste law, while the government still tries to avoid dealing with lese majeste cases.
He said Ah Kong's death might not affect the morale of inmates in general, as death was commonplace for them.
"They don't care _ one person dies, two people die. But for those facing the same charge [under Section 112], this is tragic news and indeed demoralising," Gordon said.
A cell "neighbour" of Ah Kong, Thanthawut Thaweewarodomkul, blamed his death on the red shirt leaders and the Yingluck government who had done little to help bail out or transfer Section 112 inmates to the more comfortable political prison in Lak Si.
"Ah Kong's abrupt death might be attributed to his loss of kamlangjai [hope and spirit] together with the pain in his body," said Thanthawuth, from Zone 8 where Ampon spent nearly two years before his death on Tuesday.
Thanthawut, 38, was the webmaster of the red shirt-affiliated website Nor Por Chor USA.
He was found guilty early last year under Section 112 of the Criminal Code and Sections 14 and 15 of the Computer Crime Act and sentenced to 13 years in jail.
Thanthawut said Ampon complained of stomach ache on April 23. He went to see a doctor the next day but was only questioned about his symptoms.
His condition worsened on April 30. His fellow inmates contacted Ah Kong's family and Friends of Prisoners Group leader Suda Rangkuphan to get him treated outside the prison.
He was transferred to the nearby Corrections Department Prison on May 4, Thanthawut said.
"Staying without care for three days in the prison hospital is no different from lying there waiting for death," Thanthawut said.
"I hope this serves as a wake-up call for the UDD and the government."
Thanthawut said some Section 112 inmates felt abandoned by the UDD and the government.
"We elected them with our own hearts. We might be foolish or naive in following so sincerely what the UDD said. We are the result of the UDD movement. Shouldn't we deserve equal treatment?"
Wanchai (last name withheld), another lese majeste inmate, said he was shaken upon hearing news about Ampon's death.
However, he did not blame the UDD or the government. Instead, he thanks the UDD for their financial support and appreciates visitors from the Red Siam Group and the Rasadorn Prasong lawyer Anon Nampa, who has offered him help since late last year.
Wanchai, a 62-year-old Singaporean, has been in jail for more than three years since his arrest on April 6, 2009, while distributing lese majeste leaflets.