Ampol Tangnopakul was arrested by Crime Suppression Division police on 3 August 2010 for allegedly sending SMS messages considered offensive and threatening to the monarchy. They were allegedly sent to the private secretary of then Prime Minister Abhisith Vejjajiva. Ampol was charged with lese majeste. He was detained at Bangkok Remand Prison for about two months before being granted bail.
Ampol was, at the time, a 60-year-old man who was arrested in Samut Prakan after police and officials of the Information and Communication Technology Ministry investigated and found that he had sent the offensive messages. Ampol denied the charges. He is alleged to have sent messages four times to Abhisit Vejjajiva’s personal secretary Somkiat Krongwattanasuk between 9-11 May, to other cabinet members, and also to yellow-shirt activist Tul Srisomwong. The case that proceeded in court was about the messages claimed to have been sent to Somkiat.
The authorities stated that Ampol was blacklisted as a hard-core member of the red shirts of Samut Prakan province by the Internal Security Operations Command. Ampol denied this.
Kept in prison after his court appearance on 18 January 2011, Ampol was detained without bail. Despite his poverty, after a day of consideration, the court dismissed a bail request, saying that the alleged crimes against the monarchy were severe and he might abscond.
Ampol had appeared in the Criminal Court to be “charged with violating Sections 14 (2) and (3) of the 2007 Computer Crimes Act, Section 112 of the Criminal Code (dealing with lèse majesté) and Decree 41 of the 1976 coup which changed the penalty for lèse majesté from a maximum of 7 years in prison to 3-15 years.”
By late January, Ampol had been denied bail three times and remained in jail.
On 21 March 2011, the Criminal Court again denied bail for Ampol. His case is scheduled for late September. He was detained without bail from 18 January 2011, and reportedly suffering from mouth cancer.
In late August 2011, his case was submitted to the U.N.’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention by the Freedom of Expression Documentation Center, iLaw in Bangkok, with a detailed report on his case.
Ampol’s trial began on 23 September 2011. He was convicted in late November 2011 and sentenced to 20 years in jail for the 4 text messages the court says that he sent. To simplify, the court was unable to prove that Ampol sent the messages but convicted him on the basis that he could not prove that he didn’t send them. The court’s judgement (in Thai) is available as a PDF.
His lawyer’s appealed for bail during the time that the appeal case is being prepared and getting ready to be heard, and despite guarantees from 7 academics and 2 million in bail offered, the court rejected the application on 22 February 2012, unbelievably stating that it considered the poor, sick and old man a “flight risk.” Ampol’s lawyers appealed for bail eight times, and each appeal was refused.
As his appeal dragged on and on, by early April 2012, Ampol decided to withdraw it, plead guilty and seek a royal pardon, “citing his old age and health problems as the reason.”
He died on 8 May 2012, still waiting to see if there is any mercy for an old and sick man. The royal pardon never came. At the time of his sentence, PPT and others stated that Ampol had been effectively been given a death sentence. Sadly, that has proven correct.
An inquest was held into Ampol’s death in custody. In a final insult, the court determined that there was “there was insufficient evidence of negligence,” and ruled that he “died due to the spread of liver cancer.” The judge concluded that “his treatment was in line with other inmates.” That seems to suggest that health care in prisons is abysmal.
This verdict flew in the face of evidence from fellow prisoners who “told the court that Ampon had not received enough food or health care while he was in jail…”. It also flew in the face of evidence by a doctor and prison nurse.
His family’s lawyer, Poonsuk Poonsukcharoen, stated:
“He was bedridden for three days before he died. If the health care was up to standard, he should have been diagnosed earlier…”.
That was not the end of things as Ah Kong’s wife Rosmalin Tangnopakul has continued to pursue a case against the Department of Corrections at the Civil Court over her husband’s death.
On 17 August 2015, a pretrial hearing on Ah Kong’s death in custody, with Rosmalin asking for compensation of 2,070,000 baht (about $58500) from the Department of Corrections over Ah Kong’s death.
In her complaint, she “accuses the prison authorities of negligence over the health conditions of prisoners resulting in the death of her husband, which violates Article 51 of the 2007 Constitution on the rights to public health provisions and Article 32 on the rights and liberty of individuals.” She has also requested compensation for the cost of Ah Kong’s funeral.
The case will be back in court on 19 October 2015 when the court will decide whether to hear the case.
Media reports on Ampol’s case:
Prachatai, 17 August 2015: “Wife of lèse majesté convict sues Corrections Department over husband’s death”
Bangkok Post, 31 October 2013: “Prison off hook over ‘Uncle SMS’ death”
The West Australian, 30 October 2013: “Thai court rules out negligence in lese majeste inmate death”
Khaosod, 9 August 2013: “‘Uncle SMS’ Abandoned By Prison Staff Prior To His Death”
Khaosod, 10 May 2013: “Uncle SMS, Lese Majeste Convict Dead In Prison 1 Year Ago, Remembered”
Prachatai, 29 April 2013: “Thanthawut testifies in court inquest into Amphon’s death”
Bangkok Post, 18 December 2012: “Inquest starts into Ampon prison death”
Bangkok Post, 18 September 2012: “Rich get bail, while poor go to jail”
Bangkok Post, 27 August 2012: “Thousands mourn ‘Uncle SMS’ at cremation”
Prachatai, 25 August 2012: “German expert’s statement on SMS sender identification in Amphon’s case”
Prachatai, 24 August 2012: “Former Judge’s Views on the Case of Ah Kong”
Bangkok Post, 7 August 2012: “Religious rite held for Uncle SMS”
Bangkok Post, 11 May 2012: “Ampon team of lawyers say their best not good enough”
PPT posted a page of international media links on Ampol’s death.
Bangkok Post, 9 May 2012: “Sadness, outrage after Uncle SMS dies”
The Nation, 9 May 2012: “Death of ‘Uncle SMS’ puts govt in focus”
Prachatai, 8 May 2012: “Lawyer: ‘If Ampon was granted bail, he would not have died’.”
Prachatai, 3 April 2012: “Amphon withdraws appeal and will seek royal pardon”
Prachatai, 24 February 2012: “Appeals Court denies bail for Amphon”
Bangkok Post, 22 January 2012: “Lawyer plans appeal in continued fight to release ‘Uncle SMS’ from prison”
Bangkok Post, 30 November 2011: “Ampon case spurs action”
A list of media reports on Ampol’s sentencing is here.
Bangkok Post, 27 November 2011: “The saga of Uncle SMS”
Asian Human Rights Commission, 24 November 2011: “THAILAND: Twenty years in prison for four SMS messages”
Prachatai, 24 September 2011: “Trial of alleged SMS sender begins”
Prachatai, 23 March 2011: “Bail again denied for man accused of sending offensive SMS”
Prachatai, 25 January 2011: “No bail for man accused of sending SMS”
Prachatai, 20 January 2011: “SMS sender arraigned for alleged lèse majesté and denied bail”
Bangkok Post, 3 August 2010: “Man arrested for lese majesty SMSs”