Pai Jatupat and His Reputation

An undated photo of jailed activist Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa seen in prison. Photo: Sa-nguan Khumrungroj / Courtesy

By pleading guilty and accepting a reduced sentence of two years and six months in prison for lese majeste, junta activist Jatupat Boonpattaraksa, or Pai Dao Din, disappointed some who have raised doubts about his reputation.

Some said it was unfortunate that Jatupat was talked into pleading guilty for sharing a critical biography of King Vajiralongkorn produced by BBC Thai last October on Facebook. As a result, they said his sterling reputation as an idealist fighter was compromised, if not diminished.

“What is this? It’s a confession… Hey! If you want to fight then fight. It is dishonorable and messed up,” wrote Facebook user Boonpee Jaenchaimahakul on Aug. 15, the day Jutupat pleaded guilty.

Boonpee, who disagreed with 26-year-old Jatupat pleading guilty, accused those around Jatupat of ruining the future of a promising young idealist.

“Those damned people,” Boonpee wrote, adding that it was as if Jatupat’s reputation was now dead but that his supporters continued to milk whatever they could out of him by using his verdict to point out what they perceived to be wrong with Thai society.

This week on Tuesday, Pakavadi Veerapasapong, a writer and supporter of Jatupat, posted on Facebook saying the activist told those who went to offer him moral support that he had “done [his] duty to the utmost” and had questioned whether writers and poets had done their best.

There are people who want to see a hero in others, partly because their life is not heroic enough, be it out of sheer lack of ability, moral courage or abundance of cowardice. These people pick their favorite hero or superhero instead and they get upset when they feel they’ve been let down by them.

There is a conflict here that should be noted.

On one hand, no one who is willing to endure a longer jail term than the one Jatupat is facing should have the moral right to claim that he’s a failure or morally dead.

On the other hand, no one is in total control of his or her own reputation, as others always can interpret and use your name whichever way they like.

There will be people who will see Jatupat as a fighter who eventually caved in to the pressure to plead guilty in an attempt to cut down his jail time instead of insisting that he has done absolutely nothing wrong – and as a result languish much longer in prison.

People will see Jatupat whichever way they like. To some he’s a young democracy fighter wanting to see greater freedom of expression regarding the monarchy. To others he’s a troublemaker and an anti-monarchist who doesn’t know his station in life. And there must be several variations to the theme in between.

In the end, politics may be dirty and you can’t help others using you, glorifying you – or even demonizing you.

To abandon any political role for fear of being used or demonized, one risks seeing society become barren of concerned citizens, plunging into the messy politics of democracy and freedom of expression.

Jatupat made the decision to share the controversial BBC Thai article. He decided to plead guilty. Like it or not, that’s his life and those are his decisions.

If anyone wants to be a superhero greater than Jatupat, seek it in yourself and stop becoming a mere spectator, rooting for or thrashing another human being.

Don’t ask from others what you yourself are not willing to sacrifice.