Last week, a court in Yala sentenced Nurhayati Masoh, a 23-year-old blind Muslim woman, to one year and six months in prison for royal defamation. She was accused of royal libel for sharing an article by Giles Ji Ungpakorn, an academic and political activist who fled from Thailand to the UK in 2009 after he was charged with lèse majesté. She posted the article to her Facebook account through an application for blind people after the death of the late King Bhumibol -- as she thought to defame the late king did not constitute lèse majesté.
The person who filed the complaint with the police is also blind. His name is Phiphatanachai Sakawi President of the Blind Society Association of Thailand. He not only filed the complaint but persistently pressured the authorities to pursue the case, as he confirms.
Phiphatanachai Sakawi from his own Facebook page
Do you know Nurhayati personally?
I have never known Nurhayati personally. An acquaintance from among the blind informed me. I found it was a problem, so I am the one who filed a complaint against her at Chokchai Police Station in Bangkok. Later, I sent a copy of my complaint to Yala Governor, and he assigned a representative to file a complaint against her.
Have you monitored the progress of the complaint?
I don’t want this case to be shelved. I kept pushing for progress. At that time, there was the Police Taskforce for the Southern Border Provinces, I called the then-deputy commander, who was assigned to oversee the case. The police had the idea not to prosecute her. But at that time, I told them that she is just blind; apart from that, she is the same as any other person. It should not be a rason for not prosecuting the case.
I myself thought they should prosecute. I have contacted many high-level people in the country and they gave it importance. Finally, the public prosecutor had the opinion to prosecute this case. I want to see this case actually prosecuted, not just to file a complaint and then it disappears.
I really understand that the issue is sensitive. It happened because she doesn’t know what’s going on and consume one-sided news.
What do you think about Nurhayati’s one year and six months’ jail term?
I think the court is correct. I believe that the sentence that the court passed was very merciful. Three years imprisonment was reduced to a year and six months. I understand that one reason her sentence was not suspended was because they viewed this as a security case. If they suspended the sentence, the next time there will be people using the case as an example. So that there is a single standard, the law does not exempt people with disabilities.
They were very merciful. They had compassion to have her behaviour probed before the verdict. Wrongdoing must be punished. With regard to assistance to her family, there can be help, but that is a different matter from people with disabilities who offend not being punished, then bad people use people with disabilities as a tool to commit a crime.
With regard to an appeal, from my view I see that the court has made a careful judgment. There should not be an appeal. I will write again to the public prosecutor to give information to the court. This incident has damaged the blind’s reputation more than enough.
As a person with vision loss, what do you think when a blind woman is jailed?
You have to understand that the blind and the sighted are different only in that they have some form of mental or physical impairment. It’s just that the blind do not see like other people; otherwise, they can do things.
Imprisonment is a rehabilitation process. Whatever work can help the prison she can help with. It should not be any problem for either a man or a woman.
Prisons in the Southern Border Provinces should already be aware of women who are Muslim inmates, so this should not be a concern. If she is a good inmate and has no problems, she will be put in a class of prisoner and receive a pardon according to procedures.
This is not the first time a person with disabilities has been imprisoned, so it is a thing to be concerned about. But society may think a little more about it because they see that she is a blind and she is a woman. But in fact, if society understands the context of people with disabilities, they are one part of society. It’s just that they have some form of impairment.
You have said yourself that Nuruhayati is brainwashed by some hard-core red shirts about the monarchy and commit a crime, don’t you feel any pity for her?
I think her parents, teachers, or people in her circle must have told her that Thailand is governed under a democratic system with the King as the head of the state. In Thailand, it is like living in a house. Not respecting one’s parents, not respecting elder family members is ungrateful.
So is it ingratitude or ignorance?
She received only one-sided information in an environment that is different. She is also very much a person in her own world. It's hard to say whether she intended to do it or not. But if there is an offence, it must be dealt with so that it doesn’t become an example. Punishment is intended to discipline. She hasn’t been put to death. If she is punished, she is conscious of her offence against society and is ready for the chance to return as a good person.