In 2003, Yosita Bunrueang was a housewife who had plenty of free time, and a husband who’s a winemaker.
But she had a dream to make her own wine. That year, the price of lychees in Thailand dropped to 10-20 baht per kilogram, which created an opportunity for her.
She bought a big lot, invited her other housewife friends, and together, they started making lychee wine. The brand is Knight Black Horse. Apart from lychee, they also use mangosteen, pineapple, coconut, and the usual grape to make wine. The price is no more than 500 baht per bottle.
The business grew, and the family could afford to send their daughter to study winemaking in France.
In 2013, they registered a company and exported wines to a few countries worldwide, including China, Madagascar, Germany, and Austria. By the end of that year, however, the authorities from the Office of Alcohol Control Committee came knocking.
One day, they came to her shop and bought two bottles. They asked how they could keep updated with the products for when they want to buy again. The staff gave them a brochure that had a description of each fruit wine in it.
The authorities used the brochure to file a charge over the illegal advertisements of alcohol (Section 32 of the Criminal Code) against Yosita and her company. Immediately, she had to go to the police station to give testimonials about her business.
On the following day, the Office of Alcohol Control Committee summoned her to settle the charge. She paid a 5,000 baht fine as a penalty for the staff handing out the brochure.
But that wasn’t the end of her troubles.
According to Section 43 of the Criminal Code, the penalty is 500,000 baht maximum fine and a one-year maximum prison term for the illegal advertisement of alcohol. She escaped the latter.
But her company was fined 500,000 baht, and Yosita fined an additional 500,000 baht. That’s a total of 1,005,000 baht for handing out a brochure that explains the products she was selling. .
According to Yosita, she didn’t have the money to pay the one million baht additional fine. So the case went back to the police station where she had to report herself once every month.
The police officers would ask her the same questions every time, “Are you guilty of the charge?” To which she would respond, “Yes.”
Then they would say, “You have to pay the one million baht fine.” To which she would respond, “I don’t have the money.”
The monthly tug-of-war went on until the end of 2014. Then the police passed the case to the Office of the Attorney General, where the same routine was repeated every month.
The next year, they passed her case to the Department of Probation. The authorities summoned her parents to question if Yosita was an aggressive child. They summoned the other housewives who work with her to ask if Yosita was an irresponsible person. This lasted for another 5-6 months, from 2015 to 2016.
Eventually, the case went to court. They read out her charges and asked her the same questions. She gave the same answers. But this time they didn’t let her go home. They sent her to jail. Fortunately, her husband was able to raise 100,000 baht to bail her out within the day.
A month later, she went back to court. They reconsidered the verdict and decided to fine her 50,000 baht. She paid the fine. The ordeal over the wine brochure started in 2013 and ended in 2016. She never had a lawyer.
What was jail like?
I was there from 10am until like 4pm. It was on a Friday. If my husband didn’t bail me out in time, I would have to stay there over the weekend. Luckily, he found the money just in time.
In jail, I was in shock. I kept quiet in a corner, not speaking to anyone as I couldn’t believe this was happening. I was scared that I was going to get bullied like in the movie or something.
There was this woman; she asked me what I had done. I told her I handed out a wine brochure. She went, “That’s all? That’s what got you here?”
She told me she was in there for selling drugs.
Talk to me about not being able to advertise.
It makes life very difficult because we are a tiny business. Our brand is small, and Thailand doesn’t have a tradition of wine culture. Local wine drinkers much prefer to drink foreign wines.
So when there’s a law that makes talking about it and promoting it illegal, brand education becomes impossible.
Will you still hand out brochures?
We’ve stopped handing out the brochures ever since the charge was filed against us.
Are there any other ways to legally let people know that you sell wine?
There’s no other way. It’s not just about advertising how good our products are. We can’t even tell people that we sell wine.
What is your plan going forward?
I don’t know. I’ve already put so much money into this. There’s nothing else I could do. There’s currently a group of business owners coming together to fight to change the law. I am with them and helping in whatever way I can. Unless this law is changed, I might have to close my company.
Things are getting worse and worse.