Talk with Da Torpedo’s lawyer

Daranee Charncherngsilpakul, aka ‘Da Torpedo’, who has been accused of lèse majesté and held in prison without bail since 22 July 2008, will face her first trial in court on June 23, and trials in her other two cases in which she is accused of leading protesters to surround ASTV and insulting coup leader Gen Saprang Kalayanamitr will follow.

Prachatai talked to her lawyer Prawase Praphanukul who agreed to take the case despite their different political stance.

When asked why he accepted the case, Prawase said he anticipated the question and had been thinking about how to answer. In a sense, it is just another case. His close associates know that he is quite a maverick, undaunted by what may intimidate many. As a lawyer, he thinks he should accept any case for consideration. And the agreed fee for his services is affordable for the client and satisfactory to him.

When he was approached by the client, he was told that other lawyers had turned down the case. He thought that everyone who is accused has the right to a lawyer, regardless of what crimes they might have done.

Prawase set a condition upon accepting to do the case that he would not twist the facts. He would not fight for wrongdoers to get acquitted. But he considered this was a political case, not a true criminal case.

Another reason for him to accept the case is that there are no conditions set between him and the client that this case must be won.

The lawyer says he agreed to do the case, although he and his client have different views about Thaksin. He does not like Thaksin, and he joined the anti-Thaksin movement until the 19 Sept coup in 2006.

‘After the coup, I even felt relieved that this was going to end. However, in retrospect, [the coup] might not be the right thing. It disrupts the development of democracy. Da is clear in her support for Thaksin. Am I yellow? I used to join their rallies as a fellow citizen before the coup, but never after that. Now I’m probably not yellow, but I’ve never liked Thaksin,’ Prawase says.

Prawase was upfront about this with Daranee, and they had a strong debate inside prison. He says in Daranee’s view, elections seem to matter the most, but in his view elections do not always mean democracy; they are just one component.

‘Nowadays, I’m reluctant to say that there’s democracy in Thailand. Elections are just one of many ways to rise to power. At the end of the day, it’s up to those in power whether they really use power for the people or not. But as seen today, governments from coups or elections all use power for their own interests.’

So he is neither yellow nor red, but against Thaksin. However, he feels that even if the Thaksin regime was totally eradicated, there will always be someone else or another regime in its place, and they are no different, albeit probably more circumspect or more subtle in their corruption.

Almost everybody he knows has commented against his decision to do the case, mostly without clear reasons or no reason at all. All in all, they are concerned that his reputation will be tarnished, given that Daranee’s public image is not good, he says.

Through the phone inside the prison, Daranee has insisted to him that she is fighting for democracy. In Prawase’s view, she has quite a good understanding of Thai politics, but sticks to elections too much.

According to Prawase who has visited Daranee inside prison, living conditions in there are poor, but it does not seem she is discriminated against, as it is equally bad for all inmates. But she attracts more attention and is well known inside due to the lèse majesté charge.

‘She told me she had been promoted to a certain position, sort of head of a cell. She caught a thief in the cell, and was hit on the head by the thief, and they fought. Wardens punished them both. Food is poor and insufficient. Bathing is very limited. Restrictions on life are harsh.’

Regarding her detention without bail, Prawase says according to the universal rules of law, all accused have the right to bail, because they are presumed innocent. To deny them bail is to presume them guilty. This practice seems to apply to Article 112 only. It may apply to other Articles in the National Security Section as well, but he does not know as he has never seen proceedings against other crimes, such as rebellion against the state.

‘For crimes under other Articles, such as 288 or 289, which deal with murder and where the maximum penalty is execution, the accused get bail. Is [lèse majesté] a real crime? I feel it’s probably not. A real crime must be explicit, like murder or stealing. In some cases, accused who are sentenced to a hundred years in jail still get bail during the court proceedings.’

Prawase agrees with calls to abolish this article, because there is already an article for libel in the Criminal Code. In contrast to cases of defamation, where the offended persons have to file the lawsuits themselves, he says the police should be authorized to file charges against lèse majesté offenders without a plaintiff.

He says the Thai political system is incongruous. The idea of the monarchy being above politics goes against the concept of democracy with the King as head of state, because the head of a democracy cannot escape politics. And that may lead to the question as to whether the head of a democratic state can be criticized. If this can be solved, this article is not necessary. Otherwise there will always be cases for prosecution, he argues.

He sees that Daranee’s case is about the right to freedom of expression, although he thinks she might have used some inappropriate words in the current social context.
He notes that after several precedents of lèse majesté crimes, political speeches in public have been less aggressive.

‘Harsh punishments have been handed down, harsher than for crimes of murder. The red shirts’ public speeches have been less aggressive. It is an effective suppressive measure. I don’t like the red shirts, so to speak.’

Prawase feels that Daranee has been forsaken by her fellow red shirts. Lawyers for the red shirts dare not take the case. At first, some people visited her, but there are none today.

What worries him most about doing the case is the attitudes of the people involved, of the judges in particular. He does not know what he will encounter. But at least if Daranee’s ideological fellows are present at the court, he says that would help boost her morale.


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