The death of Ampon, known locally as “Akong”, is a shame for Thailand.
Akong was sentenced to 20 years in jailed for an unproven lese majeste case on the basis of Thailand's Computer Crime Act. The 61-year-old grandfather, who had long battled with oral cancer, was believed to have died as a result of this disease. Attempts to get bail for Akong, most notably due to his illness, was repeatedly denied. Campaigns by activists and scholars in Thailand and abroad to free Ampon, while rallied substantial popular support, did not alter his situation. This case was hailed as one of “the most severe lese majeste convictions yet recorded.”This bizarre and tragic story began in August 2010 when Akong was arrested in his home and detained without charge for 2 months. In January 2011 he was finally charged for sending 4 SMS messages deemed offensive to the monarchy to then prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's personal secretary and other cabinet members. Akong denied such charges.
During the trial, Ampon admitted not knowing how to send SMS messages and that he did not recognize the numbers belonging to the receivers. He wept throughout the entire ordeal and repeated his love for the king.
Judge Chanatip Mueanpawong clarified the verdict ” The prosecution could not produce a witness to definitively confirm that the defendant was the one sending the messages to the plaintiff's phone. It was difficult to present compelling evidence because the defendant, who committed such acts, would naturally conceal his actions so that others could not observe them. As such it is necessary to rely on circumstantial evidence to indicate the defendant's intentions.”
Akong was sentenced to 20 years in prison, 5 years for each SMS message sent.
The mobile phone messages were alleged by the authorities to have contained vulgar language defaming the queen and insulting the honor of the monarchy.
According to iLaw, the police relied on phone log by service provider and police witnesses to convict Akong.
The Office of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission agrees the case was circumstantial at best and warns mobile phone users to be especially mindful of their phone activity.
While in custody, the Court of Appeals repeatedly denied Ampon bail, citing the severity of the case as a threat to national security and possibility of his flight.
The death of “Uncle SMS” elicited strong, and polarized, reaction in the cyber community – many were outraged, while some cheerful.
“I wish this country would see justice and freedom, but I could only wish. I wish the ignorant would see the light, but I could only dream. I guess I would have to put up with this reality. After all death is inevitable” wrote Poltahan Manoke Klang Prapan.
Piangkam Pradabkwan composed a poem on her Facebook page, whose last verse was: “Akong is dead. Who killed the old man? Justice came too late – this is a crime. Human lives are cheap and abundant. They breathe and smell death every day.”
Others weren't so upset about the passing of Akong. “Please make merit for the old man. By now he's probably in hell with fire burning in his mouth,” major181226 responded to the Youtube clip about Akong. “He deserved to die. Our land would now be elevated. When the color ordeal is over, our country could progress. Or don't you agree?” posted Purno5.
The Akong case was about injustice and mistreatment of prisoners. We failed as a society to put our political differences aside when faced with such gross human rights violations. In this we should be ashamed.