In March 2009, police summonsed of political activist and political prisoner from 1976, Surachai Danwattananusorn (aka Surachai Sae Dan). An anti-government activist, Surachai was accused of lese majeste in a speech he made at a public rally on 15 December 2008 at Sanam Luang. He reported to the police on 10 March 2009 but was not been detained.
When 18 “non-core” UDD members surrendered to police on various charges related to the 2009 Songkhran Uprising, Surachai Danwattananusorn, a former member of the Communist Party of Thailand, also turned himself in. He dressed in communist party-like garb. The Nation has a report on that surrender to police.
In October 2010, the Abhisit Vejjajiva government decided to press ahead with further lese majeste charges against Surachai, reportedly from rally speeches in 2010. Public prosecutors decided to file a writ charging the anti-coup activist. The courts accepted the case.
Surachai, who was 68 in 2010, was a political activist in the 1970s and a political prisoner from 1976. He joined the anti-coup movement in 2006 and was part of the red shirt movement from its beginning, although he formed Red Siam in 2009 and had an on-again, off-again relationship with the mainstream red shirts until 2010, when his small group detached itself from the main red shirt demonstrations in March-May 2010.
Red Siam is said to include fellow lese majeste accused Jakrapop Penkair. Red Siam was mentioned by Jonathan Manthorpe in a Vancouver Sun article where he stated that Abhisit government officials claimed a supposedly “ultramilitant breakaway group” from the main red shirts, Red Siam, was responsible for unexplained bombings in Bangkok.
Surachai was arrested in the early morning hours of 22 February 2011 in Nonthaburi and taken to police cells to be charged on lese majeste for a speech he gave in December 2010. The Criminal Court approved a police request to remand Surachai until 5 March. He is charged with lese majeste for his public speech on 18 December 2010 during a red-shirt event “The 2nd Eye Opening Talk” at the Imperial Mall Lad Phrao.
It is reported in Prachatai that “Surachai said that when the police approached to arrest him, a small skirmish occurred as he thought that he was under attack.” He adds: “I’ve never experienced an arrest like this. In fact, they could just make a phone call, and I’ll show up, because I’m already prepared…”. He added that he was prepared because “he had been informed that the arrest warrant had been issued since January, but no summons had been delivered. He had received a summons concerning another lèse majesté case in Chiang Mai, but it had been cancelled as, he thought, the Department of Special Investigation had taken over all his cases.”
As has been reported elsewhere, Surachai “said that he had been prepared to fight the case and probably a few more. He will not just fight for his release. He will neither confess nor deny the charges, but will fight for changes, including abolition of Section 112 of the Criminal Code which deals with lèse majesté.”
He added that he was not worried about bail because he will fight for change: “I want to make changes. I want to send a signal to those high above that the current crisis of faith in the high institutions is very strong. A civil war will occur if this government is still allowed to stay. It has been looming since the events at Ratchaprasong. If things are allowed to go on this way, it will certainly become like what’s happening in the Middle East. So it doesn’t matter if I am released or not, but today Thailand has to change. Those high above must find a way out of the country’s problems…”. He refused to give any “evidence to the police.”
In early April 2011, however, Surachai’s wife stated in a public forum that “her husband’s mental condition was good, but his physical condition was not good because of his age and the environment in the prison. Surachai’s latest petition asking for bail has been rejected, and now he feels that he will probably never be released. His wife said that her husband had written a will and given it to her in case he died in prison.”
Surachai was refused bail several times. This process of refusing bail led to Surachai taking a strategic decision to plead guilty. However, he maintains that he did not defame as alleged. In January 2012, he stuck to this plan, pleading guilty on three charges from Chiang Mai and Bangkok in 2010. He has decided to fight a fourth charge stemming from the late 2008 speech.
On 28 February 2012, incarcerated but unbowed, and a year after his arrest and jailing, 71 year-old Surachai was sentenced to 15 years in jail for speeches made in late 2010. This was halved for his guilty plea.
The court, as is common in lese majeste cases, was reportedly exceptionally biased in sentencing, mentioning events from many years in the past that are highly disputed, and related to a previous case where Surachai was jailed for several years before being pardoned. This was unsurprisingly as the judges in the case led by the notorious Chanathip Muanpawong who, late in 2011, convicted Ampol Tangnopakul to 20 years and Darunee Charnchoensilpakul to 15 years on lese majeste charges.
On 27 April 2012, Surachai was sentenced to a further 5 years in jail. The court halved this sentence because of his guilty plea on the previous charges.
On 17 May 2012, Surachai was hospitalized and scheduled for a prostrate operation. He came out of jail and hospital to be sentenced on yet one more charge on 28 May 2012. He received a further 5 years, reduced by half, for a speech on 15 December 2008. That’s a total of 12.5 years in jail.
In August 2012 it was reported that Surachai was returned to prison after having undergone a prostrate treatment at the Police General Hospital from 25 July. It was also reported that his sentence had been reduced by 2 years. That would mean that this aged and sick man can expect to be released when he is in his 80s.
Surachai filed for a royal pardon on 20 August 2012. More than a year later, on 3 October 2013, it was reported that he had been pardoned.
Media reports on Surachai’s case:
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 3 October 2013: “Thai activist convicted of defaming king pardoned”
Bangkok Post, 3 October 2013: “Surachai to be freed on royal pardon”
Edmonton Journal, 3 October 2013: “Thai political activist convicted of defaming monarchy receives royal pardon”
The Nation, 23 July 2013: “Somyos to seek bail for 15th time; Red Siam man may face new charge”
Prachatai, 23 August 2012: “Release of two lèse majesté convicts today delayed”
Bangkok Post, 6 August 2012: “LM convict’s mum wants him bailed”
MCOT News, 28 May 2012: “Red Siam leader gets 2.6 more years jail for lese majeste”
Bangkok Post, 28 May 2012: “Surachai jailed for lese majeste”
Prachatai, 24 May 2012: “Surachai hospitalized”
The Nation, 28 April 2012: “Red leader jailed for lese majeste”
Bangkok Post, 27 April 2012: “2.5 years for lese majeste”
MCOT News, 27 April 2012: “Jailed ‘Red Siam’ leader gets added jail term for lese majeste”
Prachatai, 6 March 2012: “Surachai will ask PM to seek royal pardon for political prisoners”
See PPT’s list of reports on Surachai’s conviction here.
Prachatai, 29 February 2012: “Surachai gets 7.5 years in prison”
BBC News, 28 February 2012: “Thailand activist jailed for royal insult”
Reuters, 28 February 2012: “Thai court jails activist in latest royal insult trial”
The Nation, 28 February 2012: “Surachai convicted for lese majeste”
Bangkok Post, 24 January 2012: “Lese majeste defendant pleads guilty”
Bangkok Post, 30 November 2011: “Confessing is sensible — but I didn’t do it”
Prachatai, 19 November 2011: “Surachai wants to combine all cases and will plead guilty”
Prachatai, 6 November 2011: “Surachai denied bail”
Bangkok Post, 20 August 2011: “Red shirt leaders denied bail”
Prachatai, 5 April 2011: “Another campaign against Article 112 and to free 220 Thai prisoners under lèse majestè charges”
Prachatai, 23 February 2011: “Surachai vows to fight for change”
The Nation, 22 October 2010: “Surachai to stand trial for lese majeste”
Channel 6 News (NYC, USA), 21 October 2010: “Red Siam leader indicted for insulting Thai monarchy”
Bangkok Post, 21 October 2010: “Red Surachai indicted for lese majeste”
The Straits Times, 21 October 2010: “Red Siam leader indicted”
People’s Daily Online, 21 October 2010: “Red-shirts leader indicted for lese-majeste”
Prachatai, 14 March 2009: “Red-shirted activist summoned by police for lèse majesté offence”