Caught in the madness of the system

Caught in the madness of the system

A lese majeste suspect has been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, but claims it was all a defence tactic

The solider pointed towards Bandit Aneeya, the man the legal system has previously found to be insane, identifying him as the person who allegedly committed lese majeste. Bandit, who sat quietly throughout the court session on Wednesday as testimony from two prosecution witnesses was heard, flashed a smile.

Outspoken: Previously detained twice and released on mental health grounds, Bandit has written articles in praise of the King.

"I am very sane," he told his lawyer while walking out of the courtroom. A psychiatrist report for the current trial identified traces of paranoid schizophrenia, but said he was fit to stand trial.

Only nine months after Thailand's highest court in February 2014 upheld a suspended jail term given to Bandit for defaming His Majesty the King, the 75-year-old was charged again after allegedly making critical remarks at a seminar on political reform.

It would be his third case involving lese majeste, a crime with a very high conviction rate. But this time, he is prepared to go to prison.

"I'd rather be in prison than die in a mental hospital," he told Spectrum at the military court in Bangkok, adding that he threw away his medicine when he was sent to hospital last October for an assessment.

Bandit, whose birth name is Jueseng Saekow, was released on two previous occasions due to a mental disorder he says he did not have. He says his previous insanity defence was just "a tactic" in order to avoid a hefty prison term.

Article 112 of the Criminal Code, also known as the lese majeste law, has been toughened under the junta. It uses a military court to try the charges, which carry a maximum jail term of 15 years for each count.

Having authored and translated more than 40 books, he is known as a writer who is "half crazy and half genius" as a result of his outspokenness and several brushes with the law.

But masked behind Bandit's alleged crimes is a story of how the Chinese migrant developed a love-hate relationship with the country -- from running away from his abusive father, being assaulted by a senior monk, being denied several jobs and an education, and how all that shaped his views on class and society. He would eventually see himself as the country's saviour, only to realise that his views had backfired.

BITTER CHILDHOOD

Born in China's Guangdong province to parents of an arranged marriage, Bandit migrated to Thailand with his mother when he was six years old. The two were treated almost as strangers in his father's house in Nakhon Ratchasima province, where he lived with his new wife selling coffee prior to setting up a furniture business.

At an early age, Bandit had thoughts of running away from home, having frequently witnessed his father physically abusing his mother. He spent most of his time helping out with the family business, carrying furniture and sometimes delivering the products to customers on an old tricycle.

Bandit only finished fourth grade at a Buddhist temple school because his father would not allow him to further his studies. Despite this he bought an English textbook for 15 baht, but his father threw it away.

In an attempt to seek his mother, who was sent off to a mental hospital after being raped, Bandit left home at the age of 15 for Udon Thani province, where he entered the monkhood as a novice at Wat Matchimawat.

When he learned of his mother's death, at Prasrimahabhodi Psychiatric Hospital in Ubon Ratchathani, he returned home to ask his father to help pay for the funeral. That was the last time the father and son saw each other.

At the temple, Bandit spent most of his time reading books, while also learning English for an hour each day from a monk who had studied in India. His first brush with the law was in 1957 following the military coup by Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, who served as prime minister until his death in 1963. At the time, Bandit was under investigation for having ties with communists, as authorities found books on communism in his possession. The books were formerly owned by his teacher, who was forced to flee the country following the coup.

In 1963, he ended up at Wat Mahathat Yuwaratrangsarit, an ancient royal Buddhist temple in Bangkok. It was at this temple where he would earn 80 baht for writing his first short story for a magazine, and met the abbot Phra Phimontham, who was accused of being a communist and later expelled. Bandit claimed Phra Phimontham attempted unsuccessfully to rape him while he was receiving a massage.

"Since I wasn't offered any money, I refused to cooperate," he told Spectrum.

After deciding that he was not fit to be a monk -- Bandit would often steal from the temple -- he left the monkhood in 1965 and married a Mon woman who earned a living selling grilled bananas.

POLITICAL IDEAS

In his 560-page autobiography The Dream Under The Sun, published in 2014, Bandit expressed his hatred towards the ruling class and military governments, attributing the forming of his beliefs to his interest in reading biographies, novels and political histories.

TRYING CASE: Lawyer Yaowalak Anuphan says Bandit appears normal but has a mental illness.

He despised the Sarit government, calling it "a dictatorship that wrote constitutions in an attempt to prolong power".

He also once wrote a letter to the coup-leader asking for some money to buy food.

Soon after leaving the monkhood, Bandit started using the name "Bandit Aneeya" instead of his birth name Jueseng, which he said, as a migrant, would make it easier for him to find a full-time job.

In his writings, he identifies himself as "Small Bandit Aneeya".

"The term 'small' is a parody of all the 'big' people out there," he said.

Bandit considers the several job rejections he received over the years a deliberate act by the government, and in 1965 protested by writing on the wall of the Russian embassy: "It is better to die in Moscow than to stay in Thailand."

"I felt that I was being pressured by the Thai ruling class because they believe my ideas are a threat towards the regime," he wrote in his autobiography.

The act got him into Srithanya Hospital for 42 days, where he refused to take medication and managed to avoid electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) by stabbing glass into his own leg.

Bandit would attend many discussions during that time, where he voiced opinions about the rich and poor and politics, admitting that it also presented him an opportunity to sell his books and "drink free coffee and eat free snacks". At these events, he would introduce himself as Bandit Aneeya, a "thinker, writer, translator and freedom fighter".

Criticism of governments would be a recurring theme in many of his writings.

"One of the reasons why people are poor is because they have a bad government ruled by the rich," he wrote in his autobiography, while calling former leader Thaksin Shinawatra "the best prime minister Thailand has ever had". Bandit expressed support for the pro-Thaksin red shirt movement, commenting that they would eventually win their struggle against the "upper class".

TROUBLES OCCUR

Bandit was first accused of violating the lese majeste law in 1975 when he wrote a book based on the life of Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, focusing on his wealth. Police sent him to the Somdet Chaopraya Institute of Psychiatry, where he was diagnosed as having paranoid schizophrenia, which he believed was a deliberate attempt by authorities to maintain face instead of releasing him as an innocent man.

"The statements were not defamatory, and since they couldn't charge me, they accused me of being insane instead," Bandit said.

In 2003, Bandit attended a seminar on political parties hosted by the Election Commission and the Constitutional Court, which drew more than 500 participants. He expressed his view on the relationship between courts and monarchs, and distributed documents allegedly containing critical remarks against the monarchy.

Bandit did not admit to any wrongdoing and was detained for 98 days.

Through the help of Peter Koret, an academic who writes about Buddhism and politics in Southeast Asia and who penned the preface to Bandit's autobiography, he managed to seek legal advice from human rights lawyer Tongbai Tongpao. According to Bandit, Mr Tongbai recommended he contact the Lawyers Council of Thailand, and that he pursue an insanity defence when he goes on trial.

"I didn't care [about my image]. I followed the suggestion of Mr Tongbai because it was a way to avoid a prison sentence," he told Spectrum.

The court granted him bail of 200,000 baht -- rare for those accused of lese majeste -- which was put up by Mr Koret. Immediately after being released, Bandit took part in a group ordination in honour of the King. A book was published on the occasion, which contained an article written by Bandit in praise of the King. Bandit said the book was used in court in an attempt to prove his loyalty towards the monarchy.

Bandit was forced to undergo psychological examinations at the Galya Rajanagarindra Institute. Psychiatrist Duangta Kraiphatphong made an assessment that he had suffered from schizophrenia since the age of 34.

"Although she knew that I was not insane, she wanted to help me avoid prison terms," Bandit said.

The Galya Rajanagarindra Institute did not respond to Spectrum's request for an interview. Bandit's lawyer at the time, Sutin Boromjet, denied committing perjury, saying he had requested the court to postpone the trial based on information he received that Bandit suffered from a mental disorder.

Thai law allows such an act if the suspect or alleged offender suffers from a mental disorder and is therefore unfit to stand trial.

"All witnesses for the defendant, including Mr Koret, testified that Bandit had a mental disorder," said Mr Sutin, who is currently on the Lawyers Council of Thailand's human rights committee. "Dr Duangta said Bandit is not aware of his own illness."

The criminal court in 2006 sentenced Bandit to four years in prison on two accounts of lese majeste, suspended for three years.

A year later, the Appeals Court upheld the conviction, and sentenced him to 32 months in prison without parole. The court set bail at 300,000 baht, which was again put up by Mr Koret.

In February 2014, the Supreme Court upheld the criminal court sentence and suspended his sentence again.

"The fact that the defendant defamed the monarchy in public and gave testimony to inquiry officials without realising the illegality of the act shows that he is not able to identify whether or not his actions are wrong," said the ruling, seen by Spectrum.

INSANITY DEFENCE

The latest episode to land Bandit in trouble came on Nov 26, 2014, when he attended a panel discussion on reform organised by Waranchai Chokchana, along with 15 other people. Military officers and police monitored and recorded the event, often common practice since the May 2014 coup.

After giving his opinion on the different views of Thais towards the monarchy, he was arrested and escorted to the Sutthisan Police Station, where he was charged with lese majeste for the third time. He was released on bail of 400,000 baht, this time paid by poet and writer Rawee Siri-Issaranant, aka Wad Rawee.

Following in the footsteps of Bandit's previous lawyer, his current lawyer Yaowalak Anuphan submitted a request for the court to have him assessed at the Galya Rajanagarindra Institute last year.

A report confirmed traces of schizophrenia, but stated that he was fit to stand trial.

Bandit was admitted to the hospital for three days, during which he wrote a letter denying his insanity.

"Whenever I was given pills, I would put them in my mouth and then spit them out when no one was looking," he said.

"Can you imagine how I would have felt, as a sane person who is imprisoned in a hospital for the insane?"

While Bandit says he played along with the insanity defence during the previous trial, he told Spectrum he is planning to tell the court this time that he is sane.

"He [the psychiatrist] knows that I am sane, but he wants to help me," he said. "That, however, will backfire, because they [the court] will likely send me to a mental hospital where I would be forced to undergo ECT."

Ms Yaowalak dismissed Bandit's claims, saying that although he appears "normal" on the outside, he has symptoms of paranoia.

Apichat Jariyavilas, a spokesperson for the Mental Health Department, said schizophrenics often do not realise that they are ill, which is why a large number of them do not undergo treatment or refuse treatment altogether.

"Schizophrenia can happen to anyone, regardless of their intelligence level," he said, noting that they may express a higher than average interest in religion and philosophy.

While early stage schizophrenics or those with a high level of intelligence may be able to mask their illness, he said, symptoms tend to worsen over time without medication.

"If we're talking about an illness of more than 10 years, the person might show clear signs of lower intelligence and an inability to work," said Dr Apichat, who is also a psychiatrist at Srithanya Hospital and is not involved in the case.

Although a mental disorder might result in the court setting a more lenient sentence, Ms Yaowalak said she will argue that her client is not guilty, since the term he used does not specifically refer to the King.

Article 112 states that anyone who "defames, insults or threatens the King, the queen, the heir apparent or the regent" shall be punished with imprisonment of three to 15 years.

"The statement is not defamatory, since he referred to the monarchy as a whole. Article 112 only protects individuals," said Ms Yaowalak, who also heads the pro bono Thai Lawyers for Human Rights group.

AT WORK: Bandit is known as a writer who is ‘half crazy and half genius’.

RAISING CONCERNS

At his apartment on the outskirts of Bangkok, Bandit showed Spectrum several piles of books covered with dust. He called himself "a failure", having written and translated more than 40 books with very few sales. The debt he has accumulated from printing his books has reached 170,000 baht, causing him to sell some books at a large discount.

Bandit talked highly of his wife, who hasn't spoken to him since he left his family from a sense of shame more than 20 years ago. Although his son and daughter have never visited him, he receives 10,000 baht every month from his daughter, who studied law at Thammasat University. "After she [my daughter] passed the bar exam, she wanted to be a judge but she knew she wasn't going to be accepted due to her father's offence," Bandit said.

Bandit sleeps on a mattress on the floor in a room with no air conditioning, which he rents for 2,300 baht per month. He has an Oppo smartphone which he uses for Facebook when he is not drafting his latest book on his typewriter.

According to the Internet Dialogue on Law Reform (iLaw), as of this month, 66 individuals have been charged with lese majeste since the coup. In their latest report published in February, the International Federation for Human Rights raised serious concerns over the abuse of Thailand's "draconian" lese majeste law, which they say has contributed significantly to the deterioration of Thailand's human rights record since the coup.

Kingsley Abbott, an international legal adviser for Southeast Asia with the International Commission of Jurists, called for Thailand to immediately transfer all civilians prosecuted before military courts to civilian courts -- which, in principle, have the requisite competence, independence and impartially to try civilians as required by international law -- and amend the lese majeste law so it is consistent with international legal obligations.

"There is simply no justification for the use of military courts to prosecute civilians in Thailand, and especially not in cases where the accused was merely exercising their right to free expression," he said.

Mr Abbott said Bandit's case was of particular concern because there were questions over whether he was fit to stand trial at all after the Supreme Court's 2014 ruling that he was suffering from a mental illness.

"A fundamental aspect of the right to a fair trial is the ability of an accused to understand and participate effectively in the legal process and communicate meaningfully with their lawyer," he said.

"In all cases where these issues are raised, the court must conduct a careful inquiry into the accused's fitness to stand trial -- with the assistance of qualified experts -- and if an accused is found unfit the proceedings must be dropped in favour of treatment."

Ms Yaowalak, Bandit's lawyer, said not only have lese majeste charges reached alarming levels since the coup, but they were also interpreted vaguely and ambiguously.

"The law protects only four individuals, but it turns out that people are being prosecuted for mentioning others as well," she said, citing the example of factory worker Thanakorn Siripaiboon, who was charged by a military court in December last year for allegedly making sarcastic comments about the King's favourite pet dog, Khun Thong Daeng.

Bandit, meanwhile, said he has recovered from the suicidal thoughts he has had on and off for the past few years.

"Thai society is too bad for people to sit still. That's why I had to fight," he said. "I will live for 121 years in order to witness the change."

ON TRIAL: Bandit Aneeya in front of the court last week.

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