Cover photo: Portraits of Red Shirts killed in the clashes of 2010 by Tawan Watya, exhibited at the Khon Kaen Manifesto Art Festival in 2017. Photo by Thanom Chapakdee
2,223 words / 11-min read
By Adithep Chanthet
Ten years after the bloody crackdown of April-May 2010, the court cases related to those killed have been dismissed or are stuck in the courts. Of the ones arrested and incarcerated, some are still behind bars whereas others have been set free with scars on their souls.
It has been a lost decade in more ways than one. A review of the information on the crackdown of April-May 2010 makes us look like a nation of amnesiacs. The memory of the events seem to have already been erased from the minds of most people. One wonders whether the low social status of those who died for their democratic ideals is what prevents them from being lauded by society as “heroes of democracy.”
According to a report published by The People’s Information Center (PIC), at least 94 people were killed and 1,283 were injured. Of the ones killed, 36 were found to have their home addresses in Isaan. Sisaket province lost six of its sons, the highest number of any of the 20 provinces of the region.
I wish to put flesh on the bones of memories of those killed during the crackdown by letting the readers know about their personal histories and thoughts on politics and democracy. The stories of these five people are based on information from the book Khon thi tai mi bai na khon thi thuk kha mi chiwit [The dead have a face, the killed had a life].
Boontham Thongphui was 46 years old. He was from Sisaket and was married to Supharat (Daeng) Thongphui. Together they had two children. He moved first to Daeng’s home province of Chaiyaphum to raise their young children. Later, they decided to leave their children in the care of her parents and went to Bangkok to earn money as construction workers.
In 2004, Daeng’s father fell ill with cancer. She returned to Chaiyaphum, leaving Boontham to continue as the family’s main breadwinner alone in Bangkok.
In the chapter titled, “Tell the women to go home; it’s dangerous,” Daeng relates that Boontham had always been very fair-minded. He never cheated or took advantage of anybody, and was always interested in politics. He keenly kept abreast of what was going on in politics, and eventually became a member of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD). He started participating in the Red Shirts’ demonstrations in 2009.
The lives of Boontham and his wife were much the same as the lives of so many others from the provinces who found their way to the construction sites of Bangkok. They’d go home for annual festivities, and get by on a minimum wage of around 5,000 to 6,000 baht a month. They’d send some of that money back to Chaiyuphum to feed their seven-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter, who were still in school.
April 10, 2010. At the Khok Wua intersection, Boontham was shot in the head. He was immediately taken to the Erawan Hospital where he was declared dead. According to the post-mortem at Siriraj Hospital, he died immediately at the scene of the incident from a bullet of unknown caliber. It entered the left side of his forehead and exited the upper-back parietal cranium, blowing his brain tissue apart.
Upon learning of her husband’s death, Daeng travelled to Bangkok to receive his body. While waiting for the wheels of bureaucracy to turn, she stayed with the UDD at their protest site. Laying cardboard out on the surface of Ratchaprasong Road, she slept under the roof of a large tent labeled “CHAIYAPHUM.”
She stayed for about a month until urgent family business called her back home. She left around May 14, just before the government ordered the protest area to be sealed, banning anyone from going in or out. Four days after that, the government ordered the army to disperse the protesters with live ammunition. When Daeng returned to Bangkok again, she could not reach the area of the hospital to receive her husband’s body and so she waited in the capital’s Khlong Chan neighborhood. Eventually, she was able to receive the body and took it back home.
One year after the death of her husband, Daeng was still keeping her husband’s body preserved as evidence. Though no one has accepted responsibility or apologized, she still bears hope that those who killed him will be brought to justice.
“It’s real simple. I’m keeping the body for revenge!” Daeng said through a bitter laugh.
Jaroon Chaimaen was 46 years old and came from Kalasin. Like so many, he came to Bangkok for work but ended up taking his family there. He married his wife 26 years ago. They had two daughters.
Jaroon worked in a poultry slaughterhouse until the bird flu came along. He then became a delivery driver for a cosmetics shop for a couple of years. He then switched to driving taxis, his final occupation. In between shifts, he would help his wife prepare Isaan food to sell at her roadside stall on Soi Onnut, not far from their rented house.
Nuan Chaimaen, his wife, gave an interview in the chapter titled, “I’m just doing my own thing.” She says that Jarun first started paying attention to politics after the military coup of September 19, 2006. After that, he got involved with the political activism of the UDD. “At first he would just go along with friends. Then he invited family members to go, too. He got me interested in politics,” Nuan said.
Jaroon was killed at 8 p.m. on April 10, 2010. He was shot dead in front of Satri Wittaya School on Dinso Road. The Institute of Forensic Medicine’s report states that he was killed by a high velocity round which travelled through his body before lodging itself in his pelvic spine.
Jiab, his eldest daughter, related what happened on the day she found his body. At first the hospital wouldn’t allow her to see him, saying that he was in a ward on the ninth floor. That led her to believe that he wasn’t dead after all, and was probably just badly injured. She managed to convince them to allow her to check on him. When she found him, he was just a dead body lying on a stretcher, covered by a solitary sheet. There were no tubes or any other signs of treatment.
Sawat Wa-ngam, was 28 years old and hailed from Surin. In Bangkok, he had worked as a furniture delivery man, a service station attendant, and a construction worker. But he had quit his job to become a full-time Red Shirt guard, the security wing of the UDD.
Sawat was young and unmarried. Though he left school at sixth grade, he was going to night school to complete his education. His family had no land to farm, so they went to Bangkok to find work. Sawat shared a tiny rented room underneath the Rama 8 Bridge together with his father and younger brother.
Sawat could have been a poster boy for the rural poor of that era. He was determined, conscientious, and hardworking. He applied the same attitude to his politics.
His father, Samran, was a security guard at a shopping mall in the Pinklao area. He received a wage of 260 baht a day. Sawat’s younger brother worked in a printing house for 150 baht a day. Whenever Sawat took time off to go to UDD protests, his brother and father would give part of their wages to him.
All three of them were UDD members. In the chapter titled, “Tears of anger,” his younger brother Woramet–who had been shoulder to shoulder with his older brother in just about everything life had thrown at them–recounted that they rode their motorcycle out from their home under Rama 8 Bridge and parked up near Khok Wua intersection.
They made their way to the front of the crowd where the opposing sides were clashing violently, while their father followed behind. It was then that the soldiers started firing rubber bullets and teargas at them. Sawat seized a Thai flag and started running to the front. Before Woramet could yell at him to stop, “BOOM!” Sawat was dropped right before his eyes.
Woramet said that the bullet was fired from the top of a building on Khaosan Road. He had seen with his own eyes the red laser used to sight up his brother.
Sawat died at 8:10 p.m. on April 10, 2010. He was taken from Khok Wua intersection to Bangkok Central Hospital. The Institute of Forensic Medicine stated in a report that he was killed on the spot by a high velocity bullet which entered his top-right forehead and exited via his left temple.
Phraison Thiplom, was a 37-year-old dockyard worker. He came from Ubolratana District of Khon Kaen. Phraison met Sangwan, his Laotian wife, in Savannakhet, Lao PDR in 2006. They had two children and went to Bangkok for work. Before going to work at the Khlong Toey docks, Phraison had worked in the ports of Laem Chabang and Lat Krabang.
Phraison was normally a quiet person but he found it hard to keep quiet when the conversation turned to democracy. He was always interested in things related to rights and freedoms, his wife said. Phraison got involved with the UDD from its very beginnings in 2007, in the aftermath of the September 19, 2006 military coup. After that, he was always at Red Shirt gatherings. Sometimes he would even take leave from work to take part in the UDD’s activities.
Though Sangwan had never minded him attending political gatherings in the past, she later tried to stop him from going. She was afraid for his safety, especially since their children were so young. Sangwan herself had never been to a protest before but in 2010 she went with some neighbors to the Red Shirt protests at the Phan Fa Bridge, the Democracy Monument, and the Ratchaprasong intersection.
Sangwan recounts the last moments of Phraison’s life. At 4:30 p.m., he was at Ratchaprasong intersection after the crackdown had already started at the Phan Fa stage. It was very violent, and the soldiers were not holding back in their attacks on the protestors there. The protest leaders began phoning around for protestors from other areas to make their way there, so Phraison hopped on a motorcycle and off he went to the Phan Fa Bridge.
“Don’t call me now, I’m not dead yet!” These were Phraison’s words to Sangwan when he answered her telephone call that day. “Hey, why do you have to talk to me like that?” she replied. “Nevermind,” he said. They were not in contact again after that. Next thing she knew, Phraison was dead.
Before 7 p.m. on April 10, 2010, the body of Phraison was sent from the Khok Wua intersection to Hua Chiew Hospital. The Institute of Forensic Medicine report states that he was shot in the frontal area of the head, the bullet exiting the nape of his neck. The high velocity bullet destroyed his brain. He died instantly.
Somsak Kaewsan, aged 34, was from Nong Khai. He had four children from two marriages. The eldest from his second marriage was in fifth grade, another in primary school, and the youngest was still in pre-school. His first child was living with his ex-wife.
Somsak was a frequent traveller between Nong Khai and Bangkok during the protests of 2010. He felt compelled to take part in the protests because he saw them as a way of seeking justice. The entire Kaewsan family had voted for Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and Somsak had always been interested in politics and social issues.
Somsak had been a Bangkok taxi driver for over ten years, but during the rice-planting and harvesting seasons, he would go back to Nong Khai to work as a farm laborer for 200 baht a day.
On April 10, 2010, the day that he died, none of his family were in Bangkok. No one knew what had happened to the seventh son of the eleven-strong Kaewsan family.
His family found out about it the day after. Prajak Sirichok, his stepmother, was the one to tell the rest of the family that “Somsak is dead.” The taxi cooperative that owned Somsak’s taxi called to tell her the night before, but she decided to wait until the morning of April 11 to tell the rest of the family.
“For what it’s worth, Sak died on the battlefield,” the boss of the cooperative said over the phone.
When his family found out, they rushed to collect Somsak’s body at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok. Sadly, they could not find any more information about the circumstances of his death, other than that he was shot in the chest.
Information gathered by PIC reveals that on April 10, 2010, Somsak was shot from behind and the bullet exited the left side of his torso. He was at the Khok Wua intersection. The exact time of his death remains unknown.
Apart from the 94 killed and 1,283 injured, there is a large number of people who simply went missing after the April-May 2010 crackdowns. Their families are still waiting to see them, hear from them, or hear about them.
They’re waiting to see justice.
Note: The views expressed on The Isaan Record website are the views of the authors. They do not represent the views of the organization, its editorial team, or any of its partner organizations.