On the morning of 15 October, Khana Ratsadon leader Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul was taken into police custody on charges of organizing an illegal public assembly on 19 September at Sanam Luang.
On 19 October, the court granted bail. However, the police filed more charges and detained her at Thanyaburi Prison. On 21 October, the police transferred her to the Central Women Correctional Institution in Bangkok.
She has spent nine days in jail and has not been found guilty of any crimes.
The following is a translation of a report by Thai Lawyers for Human Rights from a visit with Panusaya on 22 October.
Rung didn’t look the same. Her hair was cut at shoulder length. Her dyed blond hair was black. She wore a brown prison uniform, a blue face mask, and a plastic face shield.
We smiled at each other and spoke through the phone.
Rung said they cut and dyed her hair this morning, just before the lawyer’s visit. If we remember her the day she and Penguin [Parit Chiwarak] were taken from the Region 1 Border Patrol Division to the Criminal Court, her hair was still blond and she wore her signature red shirt.
But now, her hair was black and short, following prison regulations. She still wore the same prescription glasses. The guards allowed it. But the rule is, she must wear glasses with solid black, plastic frames. She had to ask her family to send her a new pair with a special lens that must be pre-ordered [Rung’s eyesight has a special condition].
Rung said things are fine. I told her the lawyers have appealed to the court over the order to deny bail for Rung, Penguin, and Mike [Panupong Jadnok] this morning. We were waiting for the decision [bail has yet to be granted].
Rung asked after the situation with the protests on the outside and her friends. She seemed proud that many people came out but also worried about the safety of everyone. When I told her about General Prayut’s national address [on the evening of 21 October] about how everyone should take one step back, she smiled and said in her style, “I Hear,” and then she laughed.
I read the messages from her friends to her. Her eyes welled up. But she smiled when she recognized who some of the messages were from. Her eyes were teary over her friends’ messages and even those from people who she did not know. I told her Ajarn Thongchai [activist Thongchai Winichakul] sent his support, saying, “I admire the courage in everyone’s heart.”
I asked about prison conditions. Rung said it’s more crowded here than at Thanyaburi Prison, and the rules are more strict. Inside, some people knew who she was and greeted her. Currently, she said she’s quarantined with 48 others [COVID-19 prevention measures].
I also told her, Ajarn Thongchai said in prison, books are your best friends. Rung said she could find some books, but there was only one she found useful, a philosophy book by Voltaire. The rest were mostly religious books.
When asked what she would like to say to those on the outside, the public, she said, “I’m fine. I haven’t disappeared anywhere. I’m still here with everyone in principle. I may be in prison, but my heart is always with everyone. I support all those who are fighting. Thank you to all the people who came out [to protest] with our friends every day. It gives us those who are behind prison’s walls hope to continue fighting.
“Please come out in large numbers. Let those feudal dictators know that the people now make a stance, demonstrate our principles, and show our demands. If the feudal dictators don’t stop, won’t accept the people’s demand, the resistance will increase.”
“Death to feudalism. Long live the people.”
We hugged before we said good-bye. We smiled and held back our tears. I wanted to give Rung support one more time. So, I picked up my notebook to show her.
There’s a sticker of the second Khana Ratsadon Plaque. It hasn’t gone anywhere. It hasn’t been destroyed. The principles and the fight have grown and expanded since the crackdown on the protest and the leaders’ arrest.
I raised the three-finger salute at Rung.
May Rung continue to be strong and resolute.