Thailand: Student activists released early

English PEN joins PEN International in welcoming the early release of student activists Patiwat Saraiyaem, 26 and Pornthip Munkong, 29, following a royal pardon.

Patiwat Saraiyaem was released on 12 August 2016, 55 days early, alongside 235 other prisoners in a royal pardon to mark the Queen’s 84th Birthday. Pornthip Munkong was released two weeks later on 27 August 2016 with over 100 other female inmates, including two others convicted of ‘lèse majesté’.

Saraiyaem and Munkong had been in detention since their arrest in mid-August 2014 on charges of ‘lèse majesté’ which criminalises insult to the monarchy under Article 112 of the Criminal Code. They were sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison on 23 February 2015. The charge of lèse majesté related to a performance of The Wolf’s Bride (‘Jao Sao Ma Pa’), at Thammasat University in October 2013, a play which depicts a fictional monarch.

PEN has supported Saraiyaem and Munkong through letter writing initiatives and other activities since their arrest, and they were a focus of PEN’s Day of the Imprisoned Writer campaign in 2015. The students at Cambridge Student PEN were among those to write to them in prison, and received a touching note from Saraiyaem thanking them for their support:

Being the hardest situation in my life in the acceptance of the certain destiny derived from the failure of the mysterious justice in this obsolete society paving on my friends and I at this moment. But on the other hand we stand tall with no unsuspicious fright to prove and ascertain our purist incidents. Art is my soul and beyond my own soul is an art too. I think, I write, I speak, I read and all my profound expressions, I do because of my aesthetic intention to bring this world of democracy to human supremacy for which joint freedom is enjoyed at heart.

It is not the freedom of physical battle by weapons, that is to say it is the freedom to achieve our complete humanism. It performs the entire prosperity of mankind to their initiative progress of the world – civilization with a paramount ideology we ever dream every now and then.

Albeit I will never walk alone, my friends all over the world will be by my side sincerely. When liberty and freedom was snatched away from every single one compulsarily. Positively, friends from the another hemisphere will illuminate the light of freedom to the jailed ones with no boundary furnished with the adorable friendship.

Friendship among friends is the mutual understanding when friends in need, friendship means hope especially the most essential encouragement and support, friendship is the greatest. All my friends and I here will bear this fantastic remembrance together eternally.

Prison can jail our bodies but our spiritual souls are free at all time.

Thank you very much indeed for your concern in my subject-matter,
I remain,
Yours faithfully,
Patiwat Saraiyaem

P.S Please forward to all concerned around the world.”

Saraiyaem and Munkong were also among the writers at risk highlighted at the inaugural English PEN Modern Literature Festival curated by SJ Fowler in April 2015. Saraiyaem and Munkong were paired with the writer Prudence Chamberlain, Poet in Residence at Surrey University and a Visiting Lecturer in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, who wrote a response to one of Saraiyaem’s own poems, ‘Friend‘.

While welcoming their early release, PEN remains concerned that writers, academics and activists in Thailand are at risk of attack and imprisonment solely for the peaceful expression of their opinions. PEN continues to urge the authorities to amend the Criminal Code, in particular the lèse-majesté law, to ensure that it meets Thailand’s international obligations to protect freedom of expression.

Thank you to everyone who took action on their behalves.

About Cat Lucas

Cat Lucas is English PEN's Writers at Risk Programme Manager

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