Burin Intin, a 28-year-old welder from northern Thailand, was arrested during an anti-coup “Stand Still” protest, held on 27 April 2016, at the Victory Monument in Bangkok. Unlike other group members who were arrested and subsequently released, Burin was promptly charged with two counts of lèse majesté. He was denied bail, has been detained until today and is now on his third custody order, without much public knowledge.
When hearing his name, many people may wonder who Burin is. Burin is not a high-profile political activist nor a layperson who frequently appears in political gatherings so that people remember his face. Burin is simply a “nobody”, and this may be the reason why the public has been so quiet regarding his detention.
Burin first appeared in the newspapers and in the online world, together with other well-known pro-democracy activists such as Mr. Sirawith Seritiwat, aka Ja New, and other members of the Resistant Citizens group, when they were arrested during the “Stand Still” protest, the third protest of its kind to call for the release of Mr. Wattana Muangsuk, a former MP of the Pheu Thai party, and other civilians who had recently been arbitrarily detained by the military.
Back to the actual day when the arrest took place: not long after the members of the Resistant Citizens group appeared at the Victory Monument, the student activists were all taken to Phaya Thai Police Station, including Burin. During police interrogation, army officers came into the room, put Burin into a van and drove him off to an unknown location … just Burin alone. Amid the bewilderment and confusion among those who witnessed or learned of the incident, Burin was detained in military custody for one day before being brought the next day to a press conference organized by the Royal Thai Police and charged under Article 112 of the Penal Code or lèse majesté law.
A high-ranking army officer who happens to have the same given name as Burin, Col. Burin Thongprapai, told the media present at the press conference how the authorities had been monitoring Burin’s actions and that military intelligence sources had found out that Burin had posted not only commentary criticizing the administration of the military government and the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), but on 27 April, at 12.13 pm, Burin also posted a 40 minute video clip on Facebook with messages that read “I wanna be abducted #release our friends who have been abducted” before a Facebook friend commented and Burin replied to the comment in a manner that was deemed by the authorities to constitute lèse majesté.
Not long after the press conference, an arrest warrant for lèse majesté was also issued against Ms. Patnaree Chankij, the mother of Ja New, for her private conversation with Burin in his Facebook inbox. Although it was not clear what the alleged message actually said, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), the centre that provides legal aid for Ms. Patnaree, the charge only refers to a one-word reply, “cha.” The word shows acknowledgement of receipt of a message, similar to “yeah”, but not necessarily agreement with or consent to the message.
Not only had the “cha” conversation become a topic widely and heavily criticized in public but the public also criticized the authorities for accessing private conversations in the Facebook inboxes of individuals. Such harsh criticisms and public pressure prompted the authorities into action: the police responded that their access was in every way lawful, yet they declined to disclose the details, and Ms. Patnaree was eventually granted bail.
So, at present only Burin remains in prison. No family members or relatives ever go to visit him. As Burin has no money to bail himself out, it was not until his third custody order on 23 May 2016 that the Resistant Citizens group managed to raise a fund of 300,000 baht in support of his bail application. However, the effort was in vain as the military court rejected the bail request.
Who is Burin Intin?
A 28-year old, slightly-built man who works as a welder, Burin is a native of Phayao Province. When asked about his education he said he finished only Grade 8 and a half, and was not able to get to Grade 9 as he was badly addicted to video games.
Burin said that the night when he was detained at the 11th Military Circle base in Bangkok, army officers demanded his Facebook password, but he resisted by keeping his mouth shut no matter what. Such stubbornness might be what caused the officers’ anger, resulting in a heavily-built man in plain clothes, with a knitted hat, slapping Burin hard on the head four times, while an interrogation officer threatened him by saying that “You surely won’t survive. You won’t be able to get out [of this place]. If you won’t tell me [your password], I will take you to somewhere where you will face even harsher treatment.”
Although Burin insisted that he did not give his password to the authorities, the police officers used conversations, claimed to have been obtained from Burin’s Facebook inbox, as supporting evidence to press charges against him. More importantly, as it turned out, the documents to support the charges were prepared even before the police raided his house and confiscated his computer. Burin’s lawyer claimed that Burin is just an ordinary person who has very recently begun to be actively involved in politics and who does not have much IT knowledge. In fact, the password he picked for his Facebook account was his own mobile phone number – easy to remember, but at the same time, easy to crack.
With Patnaree charged with lèse majesté for her Facebook chat with Burin, people in the cyber world have come up with various analyses. Many believe that Burin is a “state spy,” who would try to get close to dissidents and lure them into committing alleged crimes. However, according to a lawyer from TLHR, Burin has already been charged on two separate counts of lèse majesté: the first count is from his Facebook comment, and the other is from his conversation with Ms. Patnaree.
When asked when he became interested in politics, Burin responded that he was into politics since he was 12 years old because he loved listening to folk music, especially Carabao.
“At the beginning I did not like politicians at all but later I held to the belief that I would help anyone who does not receive justice, no matter who the person is,” said Burin.
When asked if he himself is a Red Shirt, Burin said no and added that “I am only sympathetic towards the Red Shirts as in the recent political conflict it was the Red Shirts who were victims. But in some instances, I disagree with them. For example, I am against the idea of a blanket amnesty because I put myself in the place of those who lost their lives or their loved ones in the protest crackdown. If those who ordered the crackdown were not held accountable, how would they feel?”
At the end of the interview, Burin left with the words that even if he is imprisoned, he will not give up. He will continue to fight as far as his situation and capacity allows.