Following Thailand’s 12th coup d’état on 22 May 2014, several anti-coup activists and political enthusiasts whose actions and opinions were seen to be “a threat to national security” were arrested. One of the most notorious cases was, for sure, the attempts to arrest and detain those who were believed to be among “an anti-monarchy network” called, “Banpodj Network.” The Banpodj Network, led by an anonymous man named Banpodj, who was soon to be identified as Hassadin, produced radio programs, distributed via Facebook and YouTube, about Thailand’s politics and the scandalous sides of Thailand’s monarchy, claimed by Banpodj as gathered from his ability to dig deep into historical documents and information unbeknown to and unreachable for common people. Such was to be considered by a military judge as “defamatory and insult or threaten the King, Queen, heir, and regent and are a threat to national security,” resulting in “the whole network”–a total of 12 people–facing charges under Section 112 of the Criminal Code, known as the Lèse-majesté law under which anyone convicted of insulting the King, Queen, heir or regent can face up to 15 years in prison on each count.
Of all 14 people who were charged under Section 112 and put into prisons, Sivaporn Panya, a mother to two children, was one to serve ten years, but owing to her confession, the sentence was reduced to five. Though it seems to be just five years, so much changed her family forever. Her youngest son would have to quit his pre-degree for psychology, and her oldest son would have to quit college, resulting in him turning to substances. Through the eyes of Wajana Wanlayangkul, a journalist and a staff writer at The 101. World whose father was facing a similar situation and had to seek political refuge in France up until now, “Mother and Son: Section 112 and the Shattering of a Family” sheds crucial light on another heartbreaking case where although Sivaporn now walks free, what happened to her and her family many years ago still haunts her and leaves scars all over her family.
This piece is originally written in Thai language by Wajana Wanlayangkul, translated into English by Sudkanueng B., and edited by Juthamas Suksod.
Mother and Son: Section 112 and the Shattering of a Family
For a grade 11 student, the experience of facing over ten fully-armed soldiers and police invading his own house, asking for his mother, seizing the family’s belongings before putting a bag over his mother’s head and capturing her, fate unbeknownst, was certainly not an easy one to go through.
After being captured for over a week under the special law enforced by the national Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), Sivaporn Panya was charged with Section 112 or the Lèse-majesté for the involvement in the “Banpodj Case.” Among the six who were charged included Anchan Preelert who was sentenced to 87 years in jail.
Sivaporn was to serve ten years but owing to her confession, the sentence was reduced to five. Ultimately, she spent 4 years and 3 months before being released on May 2019.
“It’s been a torture,” Tok Thiti, Sivaporn’s son reflected on his experience since his mother’s arrest when he was in Grade 11 (M. 5). Now he holds a bachelor’s degree in Clinical Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Kasetsart University and is working as a research assistant in Psychology.
Although Sivaporn walks free now, the past remains her family’s nightmare, each one carrying his or her own scar from Section 112. This definitely raises the question about the idea of ‘justice’.
The Distant Sound of Combat Boots
Tok’s family of four–father, mother, older brother and him–was originally from Bangkok. His father was in a contractor business with his mother assisting on management and finances. During the school years, Tok and his brother lived in his father’s construction camp near Bang Chak because it was close to school. During weekends and school break, they would return to Samut Prakarn.
His parents broke up in 2007. His mother lived alone in Samut Prakarn. From what he remembered; his two parents did not stay in touch after the break up. He knew that his mother was an active person interested in politics. When he had to go to high school, he asked to be moved in with his mother at her Samut Prakarn house. That was when he discovered that his mother liked to watch short clips about politics and discussed politics with him. In retrospect, it was a happy time living with his mother.
Sivaporn said she was one of the “Red Shirts”. She likes Thaksin and detests the coup d’état [in 2006]. “Thaksin is my business idol. I think he was mistreated politically. I read news and found Thai E-News Website that gave out free lessons for making a website. After breaking up with my husband, I had a lot of free time, so I wanted to start my own business. I wanted to create a website selling goods in Laos, so I learnt from Thai E-News website. The free lesson was offered in exchange with me sharing the news they produced, so I became involved in political news, though I didn’t really go to protests.”
Sivaporn started to know Banpodj as a political enthusiast. She supported him like his other fans, transferring money, buying his merch, and joining him for a meal with others with a photograph to reminisce.
After the coup d’état in 2014, Sivaporn noticed something suspicious. She believed that someone had put on a disguise to hover around where she lived and that she was being followed. She decided to tell her son that she would have to flee to a neighboring country. If she didn’t go, she might end up in jail. A grade 11 son who just recently moved in with her begged her not to go. He could not see how he could live without his mother.
“I was caught off guard. I was only focusing on how I would live, thinking that she was overly paranoid. I cried and begged her not to go, so she stayed. A few months after that, she was arrested. I still feel guilty to this day,” Tok said.
On the morning of 25 January 2015, Sivaporn was preparing breakfast for the kids in the house, her son and two of his friends who slept over. She drove to the grocery store and realized a car was following her. While shopping in the store not far from home, 3-4 officers approached her and said “come with us” without telling where to. Sivaporn asked for help from the granny shop owner as she was afraid to be taken in custody without no one knowing. The granny begged the authorities to discuss the matter at Sivaporn’s house; otherwise, Sivaporn would have to leave her car in front of the store.
Sivaporn drove home. Not long after, the authorities invaded her house.
Tok recounted the events of that day. “It was around 10-11 am. I was playing a computer game on the first floor. Two of my friends were at the couch behind me. My older brother and my mom were upstairs. I saw silhouettes of people as I looked over the yard. Next moment was the sound of combat boots surrounding the house. They knocked on the door and asked for my mom. About 20 men stormed the house. They told my friends and I to stay out in the front and brought my mother downstairs. They came with a pick-up truck and sedans with guns in their hands. It was preposterous–all this just to capture an ordinary woman in a cookie cutter house.”
The authorities seized computers, mobile phones, and electronic devices, a total of 14 items. This included Tok’s computer and phone that the authorities demanded him to unlock.
“My mom’s head was covered in a bag, then she was dragged to the car. She told me to call dad. After that I sent my friends off in the front of the alley before coming home to cry. My brother lit up a cigarette and put his legs up on the table. I called dad and said, ‘Mom was arrested.’”
6 Bowls of Water and Noise in Prison
Sivaporn was captured in an unknown military base. She could not contact anyone. The family did not know her location. She said she was put in confinement along with four others in the Banpodj Case in a room with no sun or moon to tell the time. Whenever she needed to go to the restroom, a soldier would put a bag on her head and escort her. After seven days, she was brought to military court to be tried under Section 112 and was sent to Bangkok Remand Prison.
She was among the 12 defendants in the Banpodj case prosecuted by the military court. In July 2015, 10 defendants confessed. Only two maintained their innocence; among them was Sivaporn. The two were pulled out of their original case and sued in a separate case by the military prosecutor.
After being imprisoned for a year and ten months, others who confessed were released, including ‘Hassadin,’ the man who created Banpodj. Around the same time, Sivaporn’s case was just scheduled to take the first witness of the plaintiff before getting postponed. Sivaporn asked her lawyer to get her a bail but failed.
“If I lost the fight, I would have to stay 15 years, but if I confessed, I’d only have to stay for 5 years. So I confessed. I already spent half the time. When I arrived at the court, I said I will not fight anymore. The verdict was out right then.”
On May 2017, the first witness was being called to military court after being postponed once. She changed her testimony to a confession, so the court gave her a ten-year sentence, reduced to five owing to her confession.
Staying in a prison was unpleasant enough. But what tortured her the most was being with a lot of people 24 hours a day and especially when it was time to sleep.
“I love solitude. I like to be by myself quietly. There’s no solitude there. It was always deafening. When I was in the reception zone, it was so crowded. We were jam-packed. We had to sleep on the side until our arms hurt. You can’t toss and turn because if you do, you face another cellmate. It got better after my verdict when I was moved to the convict zone. I could sleep on my back with the shoulder slightly brushing the next person.”
“Another issue was the lack of water to shower. Each of us got six bowls to manage. What are we going to do when we want to wash our hair and brush our teeth? They did not allocate enough water. Those who were late would have to go without water, so we had to fight. People cut lines and hit each other. Also, the restroom had no privacy. You sit and the next person in line is staring at you. How can you let it out? 200 people and four restrooms. The toilets were clogged so often.”
Sivaporn would learn of her family from the visits of her ex-husband and son. Before being imprisoned, she would worry about her youngest son’s secondary education. However, Tok often paid a visit and updated his life from being the student’s president and being admitted to college.
“Tok would come and update me on how his life is going in episodes. Now, he’s a student president. Now, he got admitted to college. (Smile) So I was no longer worried. He didn’t show up for a while before later confessing that he felt bad for not having enough money to give to his mother, so he didn’t visit. He said when dad knew that he’d been giving money to mom, dad gave him less allowance. So, I told him to tell his father to visit more often. So, his father visited himself.”
Sivaporn explained that in-prison expenses, aside from the purchase of necessary wares, mainly involved laundry costs. She could not wash the clothes herself. There was no water, no equipment, no time, no place to dry. Those who could wash were the ones who had been living there for a long time, so they zigzagged their way around water. She had to hire someone for 600 – 800 baht per month. So, she needed regular money deposits from relatives.
One good thing of being in jail was that she got to see her son. Had she decided to flee the country, she might never have been able to meet her son again.
A Voice in the Son’s Head
When asked about the impact of the incident from a son’s perspective, Tok blatantly replied, “I don’t know of any part that has not been impacted.” Before being incarcerated, his mother was his confidant. The two of them would go to the movies or go shopping together.
Tok started a pre-degree for psychology at Ramkhamhaeng University since Grade 9. His mother would drive him there. When she was put into prison, he couldn’t continue with the pre-degree because of commuting difficulties. His brother quit college and started using substances.
“At Grade 12, I was at a crossroads of where to go for college. Normally, I would consult my mom but she wasn’t there. It was the year when I felt the most isolated. I tried to choose a university in Bangkok but it had to be far enough so I could live in a dorm. I really didn’t want to stay home then. It was so depressing. A gloomy construction camp. I barely talked to my dad. My brother was using drugs every day. My grandma was rambling on and on. When I got admitted to Kasetsart University, I stayed in the dorm and barely went home. Weekends or school break I kept staying because home was too depressing.”
“To my brother, mom was the person he held on to. When my parents separated, my brother was already in his teens and so started to defy dad. He’s not very close to dad and he’s closer to mom than me. I didn’t know when things started to go south. Once I realized, it was too late.”
Early on when his mother was in jail, Tok didn’t visit, so she wrote a letter to him, telling him how life went about in the cell. It was admittedly depressing for a high schooler that he was, especially when his mother mentioned religion–something she had no prior interest in. Tok felt that life in prison was changing his mom into someone he didn’t know.
After graduating high school, Tok studied Psychology at Kasetsart University which was close to the Bangkok Remand Prison, so he visited his mother every week. Only his close friends knew that he visited his mother who was imprisoned because of Section 112.
“Section 112 was like a ghost or a monster. You’ve heard of it but you’ve never seen it. When I told my friends, they would go silent as if they’d seen a ghost,” said Tok.
“When I was in the first year of the university, I was so happy. I hung out with new friends. Yet, sometimes when I ate something good, I would suddenly think of my mom. While I was sleeping in a nice cool air-conditioned room, I would think how is my mom sleeping. Is she lying on her side, packed like sardines in a can?”
Tok said that the lawyer’s expense for his mother’s case was huge. Lawyers got changed because the case took a long time and showed no progress. Some of the lawyers took the money and promised to move the case from the military court to a civilian court, but they never did.
“The economy was bad. My dad’s business started to plunge. Normally, mom would take care of the finances. Also, he had to pay for lawyers without getting any progress. There was this one month when my father didn’t transfer the money, so I visited him at the camp. He said he had no money. He took grandma’s cash savings out for a thousand baht saying this is all that is left. That was when I realized that our financial status had hit rock bottom.”
“Before that time my mom would be glad whenever I visited, she would bring a piece of paper to order goods. I had to stop her saying that we have no money. My mom was puzzled. She said she had to pay for washing and repay her debt. I said dad wouldn’t give me any money so I didn’t know what to do. After that, I didn’t dare to visit. I couldn’t face her.”
Tok took that thousand baht bill back to the dorm during school break. He borrowed his friend’s money to pay the rent and started eating only a meal a day with the cash that’s left.
“My friend felt sorry for me so they brought me food. Some wondered why I didn’t go home, but I really couldn’t go. If I went home, my condition would be worse. According to what I learnt, I knew I had depression for sure, but I didn’t go to the doctor. One day I was lying in my bed; seeing the bathroom’s door left open, I thought I would drink the bathroom cleaner, but then it would burden other people like my roommate and the old lady at the dorm. I thought about dying most days then.”
“I used to visit my mom and she would complain about this and that, so I said I was overwhelmed. I was a middle man. Dad complained about her, and she complained about money. I told her I felt depressed. I wanted to die. She got quiet and cried saying she’s sorry. She couldn’t do anything to help, being there behind the cell. After that, I thought I would never bring such miserable subjects to discuss anymore. I would only visit her when I felt okay.”
Tok got through those times with the help of his friends. On the second month, his friends asked him to go on a Student’s Club Camp. The purpose of going was for him to have three meals. It turned out that doing social activities enlivened his mood so he kept on with them.
“When I keep myself busy, it enhances my self-esteem. In my junior year, I was the president of the Psychology Club. I wanted to fill a hole in my heart, so I tried to do something to make me think more highly of myself. Coming from a broken family, I always looked down on myself. I tried to excel in school to fill in this hole. When the incident with my mom erupted, just getting good grades wasn’t enough. So, I turned to student activities. I got better.”
After going through financial difficulty, his father tried to use the Samut Prakarn house as a guarantee to secure a loan from someone he knew. After the separation, the house’s deed had been transferred to Tok and his brother. Dad visited Tok many times at the dorm for signatures.
“I hesitated for a long time, asking him where would mom stay after release. He didn’t reply. He just wanted the signature. There was not even a meal together. I kept avoiding him until my dad gave an ultimatum that if I didn’t sign, I had to find my own tuition fee. I was already on my third year. I was a good student and I was so close to graduate. I couldn’t think of any other way so I signed.”
While his mother was in prison, there was a pardon, but she was not included in the category because her case was not finished. The prolonged legal process led mother and son to discuss confession so all this can be over.
“I told my mom that she is fighting what she cannot win. It’s better to yield so that she can get out. When she gave in, they give her a five-year sentence. She was already there for four years. She was a good-class prisoner, so she got out early,” said Tok.
Lost Time and Fallen Life
During Tok’s senior year, Sivaporn was released after being imprisoned for 4 years and 3 months. The house was already confiscated.
Tok said his mother likes to dress up. On the day of the release, she asked him to bring her high heels. “My dad and I drove to pick her up. She seemed to be in a good mood. She seemed normal compared to when she wrote to me about religion. We went shopping, buying stuff into the house. My dad went to get the key from the old lady who confiscated the house. My mom didn’t know that the house wasn’t ours. When she found out, they got into a fight.”
Although the house could not be kept, Sivaporn understood why her son did what he did. “Tok said that he signed so he could graduate. He felt bad for his mom not having a house, so I said he did the right thing. That house is far anyway. We can find a new one, I told him.”
The first year after cell life, Sivaporn returned to the old house that was no longer hers. She tried to ignore the fact that the name of the owner changed. Tok’s father construction business was no longer viable, so he let all the workers go and moved out of the campsite into a friend’s house. Sivaporn, hence, took in her eldest son.
During the four years in prison, Sivaporn’s eldest son abused the substances so much that he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and had to be hospitalized over ten times. Sometimes, he would have episodes and began to physically hurt others. Despite quitting substances, he did not take medicine regularly. This made drinking alcohol dangerous as he might lose all self-control. Sivaporn admitted that she was afraid whenever her son was having an episode.
Tok suggested that his mother could become a Grab driver. She did that for a year. On the days she got wind of the fact that her son had a drink, she would not dare to enter the house. “My eldest son’s condition was not good. He would drink in secret and throw a fit. I told Tok to call his father to pick up his brother and take him to the hospital, but I wouldn’t dare to go home. I would park elsewhere. This happened three times. Later, the doctor demanded a strict intake of the medicine. So, we went back to square one. Once things got settled, the owner told us to move out because there was someone who wanted to purchase the house. The owner gave us moving allowance,” said Sivaporn.
Sivaporn packed her bags and moved in with a relative near Klong Toei. From a single house with an open space, she had to move into a tiny apartment. Tok’s father moved upcountry and brought the eldest son with him.
“Mom complained that if the house was still ours, my brother would be able to stay, and I could visit. She told my dad because he lost the house, he had to take my brother. I stayed at a friend’s house after I graduated,” recalled Tok.
After graduation, Tok could not find work. His pocket was getting thin. He moved from the dorm to his friend’s house and relied on the kindness of his acquaintances for food. He kept sending out resumes and waited hopelessly. He decided to be ordained to get out of the situation. Once he left the monkhood, he used the remaining money from ordination to pay off his debt to the dormitory.
When the young man got his first job, he rented a room near Kasetsart University because it was the closest thing to ‘home’.
“I moved back to a dorm near Kasetsart. I feel like this is my second home, and it will be a home for me for a while because the real home was lost. That’s right, I have no home anymore.”
For Sivaporn, despite losing many things, she remains hopeful. She is currently finding a way to start her own business. She hopes to have enough funding to help those who suffered from political persecution.
“I don’t feel bad because my son has grown up and can take care of himself. But when he was still in school and someone had to look after him, I was in the prison. I didn’t do my duty. I have to apologize to my son.”
“I don’t think my life has been terrible, but being in jail was definitely terrible. Being in there without a proper reason was the most terrible. So terrible that I think the system itself is bad and needs to change.”
Looking at how many people are now charged with Section 112 because of political activism, Sivaporn feels terrible. The fact that the young activists are being arrested just because they mention that a certain group of people hold too much power sheds even more light on their demands and the need for change.
“I feel sorry for the young people being imprisoned now, like Nong Rung who is staying in the reception zone. The prison is overcrowded. I don’t understand what they’re thinking. I feel so bad for the moms,” Sivaporn said, understanding that for mothers, every breath is for their children.
For Tok, when he sees people his age going into the cell because of Section 112, he definitely “feels” something because he knows all too well the pain caused by this law.
“Section 112 devalues human beings. It’s as if it wasn’t written for human society. It’s bizarre to have such a law exists in a country with a democratic governing system where people should all be equal. Yet, this law already states that no one is equal. Everything is so paradoxical.”
He hopes to live in a better country. It’s a change that all need to pitch in.
“I’m glad everyone has started to see the distortion of reality. I lived with it for too long and it’s a torture. We couldn’t do anything. Everything is deep-rooted and connected. It’s not something we can change quickly. When I grow old, I want to live in a better country. Thailand is like a community’s toilet that everyone uses but no one wants to clean. But we have to lend a hand. If you don’t want your children and grandchildren to end up like me, we must do it. And even if when it’s rubbed clean, it’s still the old model. We might have to change the toilet altogether or renovate it.”
Tok knows he can’t change the belief of people on the other side, yet, at least, he wishes others to learn of his story and his mom’s.
“At least, I want people to know what I went through. I don’t think anyone deserves what my mother or I went through. No one should be put in jail because of this reason. Having mom in a prison affected dad, my brother and me. Why did I have to go through this? If people learn more about our struggle, they might become more open-minded.”
And the last words he used for describing the 4 years and 3 months of his mother in a prison cell were,