THESE are some of the things I remember best during my second round of "attitude adjustment" under the military junta, also known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).
My crime was tweeting and posting comments questioning the legitimacy of the NCPO and its leader General Prayut Chan-o-cha, who is also prime minister, for which I was detained from September 13 to 15.
SECRET DETENTION ROOM
After being blindfolded and taken in a nondescript van on an hour-and-a-half journey out of Bangkok, with some four men in black short-sleeved shirts wearing surgical masks, I was deposited in a 4-by-4 metre cell. All the pane-less wooden windows, with iron bars, were shut tight and the ventilation outlets in the adjoining tiny toilet and shower area were covered from the outside with brown paper. The cell had a non-functioning mobile air-conditioner that went no lower than 29 degrees Celsius, a CCTV that stared at me from a corner of the ceiling, a hazy TV set and several small bottles of water. There were no chinks to let in the sun or air, and the cell was locked from outside.
I was told to knock if I wanted anything, and that I would be told of my “programme” the following day.
Unlike the mid-ranking or senior officers I had encountered in earlier “attitude adjustment” session, the four men in charge, who worked in shifts of two at a time, were always terse, always sported a surgical mask and were always in civilian clothes. They only spoke or answered me when it was absolutely necessary.
In the morning of day two, after barely being able to eat the breakfast given to me by the guards, I begged to be taken outside for some fresh air, citing the lack of ventilation inside the cell.
The stern guards reluctantly obliged. They first got me to sit facing away from the door so I couldn’t see what was outside, and then they blindfolded me and guided me outside for some “fresh air”. I was allowed to stay outside the cell for 20 minutes – always blindfolded – and gulp what air I could from the outside door they had left open.
After a few outings like this, one guard complained that I was being too demanding, to which I said I was only asking for air, which is free, and not a Bt15 bottle of Coke.
Later in the evening, after spending some 20 hours without proper human interaction, an officer introducing himself as a lieutenant came in for a chat. He asked if there was anything he could do for me. I asked for some sunshine, fresh air and perhaps some soap, shampoo and washing powder.
He granted me some air, by leaving the door to my cell open, provided I faced the other way. As for sunshine – it was never granted.
Before I was blindfolded on the first day at an Army camp in Bangkok, some six Army officers – ranging from mid- to senior ranking, wanted to know my nickname, details about my parents, their profession, my siblings, my political network, my address, etc.
They also asked why I was against the coup and critical of the lese majeste law. The interrogation lasted about six hours.
When I told them that I was not a supporter of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, they wanted to know what group I belonged to. All I could say was things can’t be just black and white.
MILD STOCKHOLM SYNDROME
By the end of day three, I was blindfolded again and driven back to the First Army Division headquarters in Bangkok. The No 2 boss of the division, General Asawin Chaemsuwan, eventually walked in with half a dozen uniformed men in attendance.
I had met this general earlier on two occasions when he warned me against being too expressive about the controversial lese majeste law.
“I will not give you a red card yet, because we’re all Thais,” he said, using football analogy to refer to the “yellow card” that I had been given during my first “adjustment” session immediately after the coup in May last year.
However, Asawin warned that the charge – which I later found to be a sedition – would proceed if I breached the “contract” by joining, assisting or leading an anti-coup movement or by “crossing the line” in my criticism of the junta. Sedition charge carries a maximum penalty of seven years.
I then asked the general and the half dozen mid-ranking officers about how long the statute of limitations was, and they said 15 years. However, my question “would the NCPO be long gone by then?” went unanswered.
The general changed the subject by mentioning two locations, and asking me if I lived at any of them. Obviously they had been tracking my whereabouts via my phone’s GPS.
He then bade me farewell, before one of his men escorted me home.
“I wish we don’t have to meet again,” the old general said before leaving, and as I found myself thinking of him as a kind and considerate man, I realised I may have developed a mild Stockholm syndrome.
Editor’s note: This is the last “Burning Issue” column to be written by this writer.