For how much longer do they have to be the Men in Black for the Thai state?

Story by Sorawut Wongsaranon

The “Men in Black” first appeared 13 years ago on the night of 10 April 2010 using war weapons to face off against the armed military forces who, under the orders of the Centre for Resolution of Emergency Situation, had been suppressing the protest of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), or the “Red Shirts” from the afternoon of that day on.

Ever since then until the 2014 coup occurred, the story of the Men in Black became headline news; state officials succeeded in arresting them on 5 September 2014 and they were taken in for questioning at a military camp.

Kittisak ‘Uan’ Sumsri , Pricha ‘Kai Tia’ Yuyen ’, Ronnarit ‘Na’ Suwicha, Chamnan ‘Lek’ Phakhichai, and Punika ‘On’ Chusi are the group of individuals arrested by soldiers and detained for questioning in a military camp for many days before being brought before a press conference to announce that they were the Men in Black firing war weapons on Tanao Road on 10 April 2010.

But after the press conference and their trial began, the case went silent for 3 years. Then on 31 January 2017, the Court of First Instance acquitted 3 of the 5 defendants, and ruled only Kittisak and Pricha guilty for the charges. In response to this verdict, Pol Gen Srivara Ransibrahmanakul, then Deputy Commissioner, said in an interview that he was happy the court imprisoned Kittisak and Pricha, since it shows society that the Men in Black really existed.

But things took a twist when this Men in Black case against Kittisak was dismissed by the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, The courts ruled that the main witness, a soldier who claimed he was on Tanao Road that night and confirmed that he saw Kittisak in the area, provided unreliable testimony. This was unlike the same soldier’s testimony in the inquest on Hiroyuki Muramoto, a Japanese reporter who was shot dead on Dinso Road on the same night, when he said that he did not see the face of the suspect since they were wearing a hat, covering their face.

The dismissal of the first Men in Black case by all 3 courts became the first domino to fall. Because of these problems of evidence, the second Men in Black case which the prosecutor brought against 4 out of the 5 defendants in the first case (Kittisak, Pricha, Chamnan and Punika), on a charge of the attempted murder of officers, was also dismissed by the Court of First Instance.

Even then, the 4 had still not escaped from being the Men in Black, because the prosecutor filed charges of terrorism in a third case. This case will be brought to trial in 2024. So their lives are still not yet really free, and they do not know if there will be other cases in the future or not.

Kittisak and Pricha left prison later than the others. Kittisak was the defendant in the Black in Men case with the most charges, totalling 7. Although the Court has dismissed 6 charges, it approved bail only after he had been detained in prison for 8 years and 2 months while the state could not prove his guilt. Pricha chose to plead guilty to being in possession of weapons in the Court of Appeal, because he had been stuck in prison for a long time ever since his arrest without receiving the right to bail to fight the case.

Prachatai invited Kittisak and Pricha to talk about the reason why they became connected to this case almost 10 years ago and why they will continue to be involved for who knows how many years to come, as well as what they underwent during the judicial process and their lives after leaving prison.

Kittisak ‘Uan’ Sumsri (first on the left) and Pricha ‘Kai Tia’ Yuyen (next to Kittisak)

Injustice

“Inequality. Every time there was a protest by the 2 coloured shirts, if we look deeply, whatever the other side does is not wrong, they can easily do anything. But any little thing by our side is wrong. It’s unfair. What do I want to see? I want to see equality, so I went there to see what the truth really is. Later, I understood more, that it was about taking power.”

Pricha Yuyen, currently a 34-year-old glazier, talked about the day he acted as a guard for the UDD in 2010, because a friend had invited him and he wanted some extra money to add to his main job as an electrician which was not enough to look after his 2 young children. He became part of the protest and became more interested in this country’s politics.

Although Pricha does not deny that his interest in politics is related to the economy because he earns day-by-day, so if his boss does not get any work, he won’t either.  He also feels that there is injustice, and does not see that participating in political activities and acting as a protest guard is against the law.

Pricha acted as a protest guard until 10 April 2010, when the military broke up the UDD protest from the afternoon into the evening. He said that on that day, he was at his own check point and someone took a photo of him. This photo at the check point became evidence used to prosecute him for being one of the Men in Black who caused trouble by firing war weapons against the army that day.

Kittisak Sumsri, aged 54, a former minivan driver on Silom, said that he joined the protests from the beginning in 2010 because he was following his girlfriend who wanted to listen to Nattawut Saikuar and Jatuporn Prompan, leaders of the UDD. He only went on Fridays and Saturdays after his girlfriend finished selling goods in the afternoon and he finished his work driving the minivan on Silom.

Kittisak himself did not like the Abhisit government because he felt that what Abhisit’s government did to the Red Shirt protest in 2009 at Din Daeng was too violent, as they had used soldiers armed with guns to suppress the protest and his friend who had joined the protest was shot and injured.

However, Kittisak said that on 10 April 2010 when he reached the protest at 1 pm, he saw that soldiers were starting to break up the protest ever since noon and he was unable to contact his younger brother who was in the protest. So he decided to return home in Bang Na because he was worried about safety, and was afraid for his 2 young children and grandchildren that went with him. Then he returned to the protest at Ratchaprasong in May but did not stay until the protest was broken up on 13-19 May.

A life tripped up

After the 2010 protest, they were able to return to their normal lives and lived with their families for years until the National Council of Peace and Order carried out a coup against the Yingluck government in September 2014, and security officials came after them to arrest them and take them for questioning in a military camp.

Kittisak said that while working at a government agency in the Ram Inthra area, an official came into his workplace and arrested him, pinning him to the floor before putting him in a van. Later he found out from his daughter that the next day officials came to take away CCTV footage of his arrest from his office. And when his wife went to file a report at Khokkram Police Station, a soldier followed her and threatened her to withdraw the report, otherwise she would not see Kittisak again. This made him worried about the safety of his wife and children.

“The first time, they aimed a gun at my head. My feet went cold. My thoughts ran wild. I closed my eyes. I had no idea what was happening. I kept saying, if you’re going to kill me, just kill me. They slapped my face back and forth. My head was spinning. They said to keep massaging, to get something to hit me with, maybe they were embarrassed? They had my eyes covered, scared of me seeing their faces.” Kittisak said that sometimes they would try to convince him to confess first, then later on deny the charges in court.

Pricha faced a similar situation. He told us that on the day officers arrested him, he had gone to work as normal at Chiang Mai’s District Office. That day three Fortuner SUVs arrived at his workplace. The officers who arrested him did not identify themselves, there was no arrest warrant. They then took him into a military camp in Bangkok for questioning.

“When we got there, they kicked me. It’s like they’ve been watching until they were sure that I was their target. When they arrested me, they employed a military strategy, like I was a super dangerous criminal. When we got there, they kicked me. I landed on my face, and they pinned me to the ground. They took away all my things. My younger brother had to track them down and get them back later. They didn’t notify us at all. My younger brother asked my colleagues, and they said to not get involved in this. It’s something that’s been stuck in my heart all this time. Why could they do this? Where is the law?” Pricha reflected.

Pricha said that he was ill-treated from Chiang Mai to Bangkok. If he answered that he did not know anything, he would get hit with the barrel of a gun or they would press the gun to his forehead or sometimes the back of his head. But he could guess that they were soldiers because during the trip, he asked for a cigarette and the soldier lifted the cloth covering his face, and Pricha saw what his jailers were wearing from the waist down. Once they arrived in Bangkok, they continued to question him. They threatened to make him disappear or to harm him physically in ways that do not leave any marks other than small bruises, such as by covering his face with a wet cloth. They said the bruise would be small, just like accidentally bumping into something. He was in a military camp for around 3-4 days before being handed over to the Crime Suppression Division. But before the transfer, he was treated and a doctor gave him treatment and carried out an external physical examination.

Other than physical harm while detained for questioning, what both of them faced was the absence of lawyers during both military and police questioning, which meant they were separated from any support for the case that was waiting for them.

Never-ending case

“It’s not fair. It doesn’t end. I’ve already won (the trial). But they brought this and that team. The witnesses are the same people. It’s like they copied past cases. The lawyer questioned them until they couldn’t answer. It’s not justice for me.”

Kittisak talked about his feelings on ending up as a repeat defendant. He faced a total of 7 charges from various incidents. He is also the one to be in prison for the longest time, totalling 8 years and 2 months without getting bail, all the time counting from when he got arrested until the Court allowed him bail on 21 Nov 2022 after the Court of First Instance dismissed the Men in Black case part 2.

Although Kittisak faced several charges consecutively, he chose to fight them since his daughter told him that he did not do anything wrong so why accept it if he’d done nothing. If he confessed, then it would be the same as being guilty. Finally, the Supreme Court dismissed the first Men in Black case and issued an order to release him from prison immediately. But he still had 3 more cases pending at that time, and the court did not grant bail. In the 3rd case of terrorism, Kittisak said that the prosecutor is still using the same evidence as in the previous two Men in Black cases in the prosecution.

The men while in detention

Nevertheless, the difficulty in getting the right to bail resulted in Pricha, who had fought the case with Kittisak up to the Appeal Court, finally deciding to plead guilty and withdraw his appeal. Because the sentence of the Court of First Instance was 10 years in prison, and he had already been imprisoned even before the case came to court, then totalling the time he had been in prison was like he had served half his sentence already. This became the reason he chose to stop fighting the case, so that with the case at an end, he could qualify as a prisoner who could get his sentence reduced, which meant that he would have not much longer left in prison. In total, he was in prison for 6 years, 4 months and 29 days before getting released.

Although Pricha pleaded guilty to being in illegal possession of firearms to end the case, he had to serve his sentence, the prosecutor used the same set of evidence to file charges for attempted murder of officials. The court ruled to dismiss the case, stating that this evidence was unreliable as individual witnesses had provided conflicting testimony, which at the same time proves that Pricha is free of guilt.

“The day they read the verdict, I was scared. The first case was obvious. The fingerprints on the gun didn’t match. The scientific evidence was clear, but how did I still get 10 years? They searched my house back at my hometown, my dormitory, and they didn’t find anything indicating a weapon. I still got done for illegal possession. At that time, at my rooms there was the mother of my children, and my 2 baby children. But there was nothing. One TV, one fan, a bed, my kids’ clothes. A shophouse costing 800 baht in rent. My younger brother’s house is a single house with 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom. They used something to prise open the toilet, they searched everything, but found nothing. We had to get them to repair it. They have to take responsibility, since they did it.”

About the problem of their case being dragged out endlessly, their lawyer has said in an interview with media that in his opinion, the prosecution of all 3 charges related to 10 Apr 2010, the first being illegal possession of firearms and second attempted murder of an officer, both of which have been dismissed by the court, and the third being a new charge of terrorism, were filed using the same set of evidence and witnesses. This is a legal problem which is considered to be double jeopardy, which violates the Criminal Procedure Code. However, the court still views them as different charges against each person and that it can be done.

Family lacking support, broken home

The thing they had to face outside their case is that life after coming out of prison was not smooth.

Although in the end Kittisak was in prison for almost a decade, he was able to return to normal life with all of his family. His friends also provided help by finding him work and understanding what he had to face. But while Kittisak was in prison for a long time despite being the breadwinner of the family, the financial burden fell on his wife, including looking after their two children and paying off the mortgage on their house, although their eldest child was able to earn money driving a motorcycle taxi and the younger one helped sell things.

“My life has been difficult since I was young. I can stay (in prison), but I’m worried whether my kids will get to finish their education. One of the teachers actually signed for a student loan for us. The younger one has already finished school and is working. What I was worried about at that time was whether my wife would be able to pay off the mortgage, would my kids finish school. Back then if there was any help (voice shakes) … look after them a bit. Political prisoners, look after them well. Back then, the younger one was studying for a vocational degree. I couldn’t think of anything.”

Kittisak (left) and Pricha (right) after getting bailed

But for Pricha, this resulted in him separating from his wife and children due to financial problems in the family when his wife had to look after his 2 children by herself and work at the same time. She chose to part ways and build a new family. But more than financial and family problems, Pricha had to face even more difficulties.

“They didn’t win against me at all. The court dismissed everything, but my family’s broken up. I don’t have any more money to fight. To get out and work for money, I stopped there. I gave in. They didn’t win against me at all. Because they didn’t win there, then forced disappearance happens. Here, I’m anxious every day, the law can’t do anything. They’re above the law, outside of the law already. When I go to do anything anywhere, I first make sure there’s a lot of people,” Pricha said.

Pricha’s guilty plea in the first case means he has a criminal record, making it difficult to find work and even if he did get a job, he would often have to take leave to go to court, which could cost him his job again. His past experiences have left him prey to constant suspicions, fearing that he will be arrested or that his bail on the terrorism charge would get revoked. He thinks that if there is another time, it will probably be a forced disappearance. His anxiety has led him to stop political activities, and although he did want to participate in the youth rallies in the past 3 years, his experience at that time caused him to choose to only watch with worry, not even expressing political opinions.

Kittisak also had to face psychological effects. Since he left prison, he has felt worried that he would be taken away by soldiers again. There are also incidents which made him anxious, because after the court dismissed the second Men in Black case, which was his 6th case and he was about to return home, a police officer from Nang Loeng Police Station came to detain him. When he was in prison, he learned that he was to be handed over to the military. That day he was worried that he would be handed over to the military again, so he called his daughter and lawyer. When he reached the police station, the police officer said there were still 2 active arrest warrants issued by the Department of Special Investigation. It wasn’t until the next day that he was able to return home.

“I think all the time that this sort of thing shouldn’t happen,” is what Kittisak always thinks about the things he had to experience, ever since the day he was taken to a military camp 9 years ago and was stuck in prison for a long time. Even when his father passed away, he was unable to hold a funeral for him. He did apply for leave to attend the funeral, but he did not get permission.

Kittisak said that if he had the chance, he would like to sue the officer who did this to him in return, but it seems like something a long time away while they still have new charges filed against them and do not know if there are to be more in the future.

Help and relief

“I hope that with the change of government, the economy will become better, and I would like to see a fairer, more honest judicial process then this. What do I hope from the new government? I want them to help those who have been seriously affected by this. I want a better life than this. I want to see proper help,” Pricha reflected.

Pricha said that a reconciliation committee had once talked with him in prison about helping him get out, but in the end nothing happened. After leaving prison, a fellow inmate who had been released earlier had invited him to work at a window repair shop with him, but he could not help but be worried about his ongoing trials since it means he would have to take leave to go to court, which could cost him his job again.

“I opened a Criminal Procedure Code proceeding about double jeopardy. I fought for it, but why did I not get this right for it? Why do I still need to waste time going to court over the same things when the results would be the same? No matter how many witnesses, it comes out the same. The same documents, the same testimony. The lawyer objects. These days, there’s nothing doing about the case at all, just swapping documents to read and talking about the same things. Nothing’s changed. But most recently, a soldier victim filed a lawsuit. He was shot. M16. He saw the face of the shooter. When the court asked if it was these two people or not, he said it wasn’t, he’s never seen them before. Hah! Why do they charge me then? I don’t understand,” Pricha said.

Kittisak just said that he wants there to be help for people who were charged in political cases, and he wants his case to finally end.

The current status of cases

Case/Defendant

Kittisak Sumsri or Uan

Pricha Yuyen or Kai Tia

Ronnarit Suwicha or Na

Chamnan Phakhichai or Lek

Punika Chusi or On

Men in Black 1 (illegal possession of firearms) 10 Apr 2010

Acquitted by Appeal and Supreme Courts

Pleaded guilty in Appeal Court, and served full prison sentence

Acquitted by all 3 courts

Acquitted by all 3 courts

Acquitted by all 3 courts

Car bomb, Ram Inthra apartment (possession of explosives)

Acquitted by First Instance and Supreme Courts

-

-

-

-

Bombing of Big C department store, Ratchadamri (Kittisak was charged alongside others outside the Men in Black group)

Acquitted by Court of First Instance

-

-

-

-

Planting an improvised explosive device in front of a house in Pom Prap Sattru Phai District (Kittisak was charged alongside others outside the Men in Black group)

Acquitted by Court of First Instance

-

-

-

-

Planting an improvised explosive device in front of the Telephone Organization office in Pom Prap Sattru Phai district (Kittisak was charged alongside others outside the Men in Black group)

Acquitted by Court of First Instance

-

-

-

-

Men in Black 2 (injuring soldiers) 10 Apr 2010

Acquitted by Court of First Instance

Acquitted by Court of First Instance

-

Acquitted by Court of First Instance

Acquitted by Court of First Instance

Men in Black 3 (terrorism), 10 Apr 2012

Pending trial in 2024

Pending trial in 2024

-

Pending trial in 2024

Pending trial in 2024

Note – “-“ means no prosecution

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