Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Adventures of Ekachai Hongkangwan: Parts 1 and 2

[NOTICE:  I, Ann Norman, am an American living in the United States and am not subject to, and do not recognize Thailand’s lese majesty law. Furthermore I condemn that law as a huge human rights abuse that continues to ruin hundreds of innocent lives and has poisoned all of politics in Thailand. I am the sole author of this article and it was my idea to write it. This was first posted on Facebook, February 4, 2018.]

3 Years in jail for selling copies of a Documentary about the Monarchy and Succession 

Beginning in 2011, Ekachai Hongkangwan, a former lottery ticket salesperson, served almost 3 years in jail for selling pirated copies of an Australian Documentary on the Thai monarchy. You can see that documentary here:

If you can’t view the video, here is an opening statement that summarizes it’s aim: “The Achilles heel of monarchy is succession. It’s the stuff of Shakespeare . . . Reporting has been off-limits, but with a beloved king in decline, a successor in the wings, and Thailand at a dangerous and defining moment in its history, the time has come to enter the ‘no go’ zone and tell the story.”

It’s a very sober report, not sensationalist, involving interviews with key observers and players, including Paul Handley (author of the banned biography “The King Never Smiles”) Thanong Kachong (Managing Editor of the conservative Thai newspaper The Nation), the brother of Da Torpedo (Red Shirt leader and lese majesty vicitim), as Sulak Siraraksa (renowned writer and Buddhist scholar and lese majesty victim), and Chiranow Premchaiporn (manager of Prachathai website and lese majesty victim).

At one point the interview, the interviewer presses Thanong Kachong to comment on a notorious leaked video of then Prince Vajiralongkorn at a birthday party in which his wife, Princess Srirasmi, is practically naked and gets down on the floor and eats cake off a plate with the dog. “There is a video that shows the future queen naked in front of place servants. That’s something you haven’t reported . . . doesn’t it say a lot about the character of what could be the future monarch of this country?” Thanon Kachong refuses to answer claiming the matter is “private” and he the newspaper as a policy will not report on private matters.

But, in retrospect, we can answer that question differently: “Yes, the video was an important clue into the Crown Prince’s character and subsequent actions as King.” And this clue was forcefully suppressed to the detriment of the whole country. To give you an idea of the importance of the question asked in the video: the “future queen” mentioned, never became queen—because not long after this documentary aired, the King not only divorced her but disappeared her entirely. He also threw her whole family in jail on charges of lese majesty, and there is no proof that the ex-Princess is even still alive. She has not been seen since around December 2014. Not only is a possible murder, not a “private matter” but Vajiralongkorn’s reckless, unchecked tyrannical behavior extends to matters that affect the public at large—as we will touch on next.

Ekachai Hongkangwan served his time for selling copies of the Australian documentary. Upon his release, he gave an interview saying he now clearly understood there are some things you can’t do in Thailand. But before long, Ekachai was once again marching out alone on a mission sure to piss off both the junta and (now King) Vajiralongkorn.

Disappeared for civil disobedience protesting the removal of a historical plaque

On June 24, 2017, on the 85th anniversary of what used to be Thai Independence Day, Ekachai Hongkangwan marched into the street with a replica of a historical plaque and a bucket of cement to try to glue recently erased piece of history back in place.

The original marker, a bronze plaque the size of a dinner place, used to be embedded in a busy street on the spot where revolutionaries had long ago announced the end of absolute monarchy and the beginning of constitutional monarchy, on June 24, 1932. The marker said, "Here on 24 June 1932 at dawn, the People's Party proclaimed a constitution for the country's advancement." However one night in April, a tent when up, and the plaque was replaced by a new marker with a completely opposite message: “To love and respect the Buddhist trinity, one's own state, one's own family, and to have a heart faithful to your monarch, will bring prosperity to the country.” Someone took a still picture of a tent surrounding the plaque on the night it was stolen. But there is no video proof of who stole historical plaque because all 11 security cameras in the busy plaza were down that night for repairs. Hmmm . . . . That, and the fact that anyone who complained or asked questions about the theft were temporarily arrested, are your two biggest clues as to who stole the historical marker. Most people I know are sure the order came straight from King Vajiralongkorn, although, there is about a 5% chance the idea to steal the marker originated with the junta government.

For Americans, imagine that in the middle of the night someone changed to marker in front of Independence Hall to say, “King George was really a Great Guy. It’s too bad the colonies rebelled” and no one was allowed to object. Under that Orwellian scenario, I imagine I would be marching into the street with a bucket of cement myself.

As for Ekachai, he knew it was a hopeless mission when he set out. He was quickly grabbed and taken away in a nondescript van. “Grabbed into a white van” has the same connotation in Thai or in English: something unofficial and unaccountable is about to happen to you often involving threats and torture. Fearing the worst, our organization, the Thai Alliance for Human Rights, dashed off a letter to the UN, but on this occasion Ekachai was only questioned and returned unharmed within a day. Despite his failure to restore the monument, Ekachai did succeed in reminding some Thai people of their history. Including the one of the officers who interviewed him. That officer asked Ekachai to explain what he had been trying to do, because HE REALLY DIDN’T KNOW! Ekachai says he enjoyed the chance to teach him a piece of Thai history and that the man listened with interest!

In the next installment, Ekachai Hongkangwan petitions the King to end lese majesty.

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