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Apparent calm in ‘Thai District’ (1)

Yu-Kyung Lee, Sumut Prakan/Bangkok(Thailand), 27 December 2014

Samut Prakan is at the verge of Bangkok’s south east. Factories and workers as well as crocodile farm and golf course are featured in the province. There, I traveled to Wat (“temple”) Bang Hua Suan where I met 55 year old woman Aree Chaimongkul in late November. She hurriedly showed me three pictures of her son, who was not any more.

“My son was healthy. But he was very scared of being in prison. He said he didn’t want to be transferred to ‘Unit 4’”

The man appeared in the pictures bore several bruises marks which looked bit dug. “I heard bruises were probably resulted from electrocution.”

Bangkok Remand Prison, wherein Surakrit Chaimongkul(36) died. photo: Yu-Kyung Lee

Surakrit Chaimongkol, Aree’s 36 year old son, was died inside the Bangkok’s Remand Prison on August 28. Director of the Corrections Department Wittaya Suriyawong reportedly said Mr. Surakrit had sudden asthma attack in the morning. Prison doctor Sorasith Chongcharoen mentioned of diabetes. However, there was different observation by Dr. Salaktam Tojirakarn, who talked of ‘massive internal bleeding in the stomach’ might have caused Surakrit’s death. Although prison authority claimed that inmates never were subjected torture or beating, Aree has suspected that her son died out of physical attack. She had insisted not to cremate until truth would be revealed. However, cremation eventually took place on November 30 without truth yet.

Suspicions on prison death

Surakrit, a taxi driver, was Red Shirts supporters who advocate electoral democracy. He was accused of gunning down Suthin Tharatin, anti-election activist, on January 26 this year - a week before the election that the then Yingluck administration was hopeful to win. On that day advance vote was being processed on that day amid turmoil created by opponents in several locations including Bang Na district of Bangkok – next door to Samut Prakan. While Suthin’s mob staged in the district, unknown assailant shot him. Suthin died on the spot. Surakrit , who was arrested in July 8, denied all charges.

Aree visited her son on August 21, 7 days before Surakrit died. Surakrit was then prisoned in ‘Unit 1’ of Remand Prison. ‘Unit 1’ is for those who first arrived at prison and largely are not yet convicted. Whereas ‘Unit 4’ has manned by long term prisoners including mafia-like figures. Aree said her son was depressed as he was told to be transferred to ‘Unit 4’.

“He asked me to hurry to bail him out. Otherwise he would be killed in the prison.”

Surakrit Chaimonkul (36) died in prison. He was accused of gunning down anti-election activist on January 26 2014. He denied all charges(left)./A supporter of PDRC (People’s Democratic Reform Committee) – latest version of “Yellow Shirts” – made a condolence to Suthin Tharatin, who was gunned down by assailant while he led mob to disturb advance voting process on January 26 2014(right). photo: Yu-Kyung Lee

Bail was denied and Aree got a call in the morning of August 28 that her son died in ‘Unit 4’. It’s not clear whether he died of probably torture while interrogation, beating by inmates or disease.

There’s a growing concern over ‘political prisoners’ like Surakrit when they mixed up with others inmates, given deeply plagued political conflict in the country. Thai Lawyer’s for Human Rights (TLHR), which was established on May 24 two days after the coup, has asked director of Bangkok Remand Prison on October 30 that political prisoners who have not been convicted yet should be separated from other convictees.

Nevertheless, the Junta has started to dismantle Laksi prison or “Prison for Political Prisoners” since mid-July, sending inmates to different jails. Laksi Prisoners were exclusively Red Shirts, who have been in jail since bloody crackdown in 2010. In January 2012, Yingluck government, which was elected thanks to Red Shirts’ support previous year, has institutionalized recommendations made by National Reconciliation Commission. One of them was not to mix up political prisoners with other inmates. The Junta however has turned over everything of this by issuing order no.402 on November 4th to close Laksi Prison.

“It costs a million baht to run Laksi prison in separate,” said Justice minister Gen. Paibun Kumchaya.

He and 74 others fled the country by his own boat, he claimed. They have made a direct journey from Arakan to Malaysia with little trouble, while Rohingya boat people who normally rely on Smuggler’s hands from Bangladesh experienced to a great extent.  

"We met Indian Navy 4 days after departure. They helped us to direct the way for Malaysia and also have given us drinking water."   

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