Veteran anti-coup activist Sombat Boonngarm-anong took to twitter this afternoon to recount his experience among other prisoners, including the notorious "Popcorn Gunman," in Bangkok's Remand Prison.
Mr. Sombat was released on bail earlier this week after spending nearly a month in Bangkok's Remand Prison on charges of "inciting unrest," violating the Computer Crimes Act, and defying a summons order from the military junta's National Council for Peace and Order.
The NCPO summoned Mr. Sombat, along with hundreds of others, to report to the Army Club shortly after it staged a coup against the elected government on 22 May. Mr. Sombat, who also actively campaigned against the last military coup in 2006, refused to turn himself in and took to social media to organise flash protests against the military junta in Bangkok.
Mr. Sombat, known among activists as "The Dotted Editor," quickly became the de facto leader of the anti-coup campaign, which staged regular rallies across Bangkok in the week following the military takeover. However, the budding movement was dealt a near-fatal blow when police arrested Mr. Sombat in his hiding place in Chonburi province on 5 June.
Today, Mr. Sombat (@nuling) posted a series of tweets detailing his experience in prison:
@nuling: Series on "political prisoners" at Bangkok Remand [Prison] by the Dotted Editor starts now. #PoliticalPrisoner
@nuling: In late afternoon on 12 June I arrived at Bangkok Remand Prison. Per common practice, new inmates stay in the reception section, which is Section 1. There are 8 Sections here.
@nuling: Every prisoner has to get short pants, undergo a body search, fill in background forms, and get a short haircut in a single day. We enter our cells at 3 pm. We leave the cells at 6 am.
@nuling: A shout went up "Welcome, Dotted Editor!" It was Jeng Dokjik and Sergeant Prasit. The expressions on their faces showed their happiness to see me in the prison.
[Jeng Dokjik is the nickname of Yosawarit Chooklom, a core activist of the Redshirt political group, the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD). Sergeant Prasit is the nickname of former Pheu Thai MP Prasit Chaisisa. Both men are being held at Bangkok Remand Prison for allegedly insulting the monarchy.]
@nuling: It was my second time in prison. The first time was when Gen. Saprang and Gen. Sondhi sued me for libel. So, I was able to adjust very easily in my latest entry.
[Gen. Saprang Kalayanamitr and Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin were leaders of the 2006 military coup, which Mr. Sombat also campaigned against.]
@nuling: My first meal in prison was a small pack of bread that Brother Jeng Dokjik placed in my hands, because it was already late when I arrived. The central kitchen was already closed. He also gave me a bottle of water.
@nuling: Before I entered my cell, I walked up to and greeted Brother Somyot Prueksakasemsuk. Of all the people I knew in there, Brother Somyot is the person I am most familiar with.
[Somyot Prueksakasemsuk is a former labour activist and editor of several political magazines who campaigned against the 2006 military coup alongside Mr. Sombat. Mr. Somyot was convicted of lese majeste (insult of monarchy) for articles in the now-defunct Voice of Thaksin magazine, which he edited.]
@nuling: Brother Somyot is a political prisoner who has been in jail for 3 years. His case is still pending an appeal. Of all the political prisoners, he's the most calm, peaceful, and stoic.
@nuling: It's common for people in prison to be diverse, especially in terms of their political opinions. In Section 1, I met the suspect who is known as the Popcorn Gunman.
[Wiwat Yordprasit has been identified by police as the "Popcorn Gunman," the masked militant seen firing a weapon concealed in a popcorn bag at pro-government protesters during clashes in northern Bangkok on 1 February, a day before the 2 February general election.]
@nuling: The first impression I had when I met Popcorn was that he is an ordinary person. Society's perception of him as some sort of professional gunman did not strike me as such at all.
@nuling: I walked up to him and introduced myself as I reached out my hand in greeting. "Hello Popcorn. I am the Dotted Editor."
@nuling: Although the beginning of the conversation between new friends of different colour – between Popcorn and the Dotted Editor – was a bit awkward, the wall of colour lowered after some time.
[Thailand's political factions are "colour-coded": supporters of the former government are known as "redshirts," while those belonging to the rival political camp are commonly referred to as "yellowshirts."]
@nuling: I will not go into details about the conversation between me and Popcorn because it won't be fair and it may affect legal prosecution. Let's just say, he is not a cruel person.
@nuling: Popcorn was assigned to work in the front of the Section, because the prison guards were worried that if he worked inside he would be mixed with Redshirts and cause problems. This is something the prison guards were keenly aware of.
@nuling: Who would believe that on one of the last days I spent in prison, Popcorn sneaked to take an afternoon nap in the corner where Redshirts socialise in groups. They sat and spoke lively together. They laughed cheerfully.
@nuling: The first rule in prison is: don't fall ill, because medicine is very hard to find. There's only paracetamol. Prisoners who are a bit VIP will have access to anti-inflammatory drugs and coughing medicine. Tiffy is high-class stuff in here.
[Tiffy is a widely-available, inexpensive brand of cold medicine in Thailand.]
@nuling: One morning, I saw Popcorn and he didn't look too good. He was ill, coughing, with runny nose. He didn't have any medicine, so I sought two tablets of decongestant medicine for him. This is not about colour. It's a humanitarian [issue].
@nuling: Apart from Popcorn, there was another NSRT guard. But he was arrested for a gun crime, not on political charges. On one of his arm's there's a tattoo that says "Buddha Issara."
[NSRT refers to the Network of Students and People for Reform of Thailand, an ally of the People's Committee for Absolute Democracy With the King As Head of State (PCAD), which campaigned against then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Many PCAD and NSRT security guards were commanded by Buddhist monk and anti-government activist Buddha Issara.]
@nuling: I want to briefly conclude that both Yellowshirts and Redshirts who were in the prison are not criminals. They merely have their own set of ideas that they believe are right.
@nuling: I have been coughing for two weeks since when I was in prison. It's still here today. Germs in prison are very strong. People there call it "Prison Disease."
@nuling: There's a hospital in prison, but only [inmates] with critical conditions can use its service. Its ground floor has around 50 beds, for TB and HIV patients.