By PRAVIT ROJANAPHRUK
THE consequences for those who dared to publicly oppose the military junta after the May coup have led to some peculiar life changes - and for some, money issues have become a major concern.
Take the case of former Education Minister Chaturon Chaisang, who defied a summons from the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) right after the coup and subsequently faces trial in a military court. Much of his time now is spent writing letters to the NCPO chief to unfreeze his money – but to no avail.
Chaturon said freezing money of those who publicly opposed the coup and refused to report to the NCPO is a tactic meant to prevent people like himself from using their financial resources to mount anti-coup activities.
But Chaturon is not running away. He is now on bail fighting in the military court, while his unspecified millions remain frozen in the banks.
Letters written separately to both General Prayut Chan-o-cha, the NCPO leader, and Prayut Chan-o-cha, the prime minister, have met with no response so far, leaving Chaturon with two observations.
“If such a matter has gone on for six months and has not reached the hands of General Prayut, I wonder how much General Prayut is aware of the sufferings faced by ordinary people,” Chaturon remarked.
His second observation was about justice and how appropriate such a prolonged punishment was, given he is yet to be found guilty by even the military court on three separate charges.
The charges are: refusing to comply with the junta’s summons order, which carries a jail term of up to two years; violating Penal Code Article 116, which essentially means inciting unrest and carries a jail term of up to seven years; and violating the Computer Crimes Act, which carries a jail term of up to five years.
“I am still being put on trial with the court having yet to make any judgement.
“Yet I am facing punishment measures without first being judged whether I am guilty or not. The trial has a long way to go but I am now being punished like someone who’s already guilty,” he said.
Besides having all his money frozen, Chaturon is forbidden from making financial transactions. He can’t use his credit card or ATM card. He can’t purchase things like social media applications online and when he travels abroad, he has to carry cash only.
The veteran Pheu Thai Party politician said his situation is no fun, although he acknowledged he has no problem borrowing money from his wife, relatives and friends.
Red Sunday Group leader Sombat Boonngam-anong, who led a short-lived anti-coup movement and was eventually arrested, is in the same boat – but with a much more difficult financial situation as he’s a man of modest means.
Sombat, who’s been out on bail since December, began selling wall-mounted clocks for a living after all his cash, over Bt1 million, was frozen by the NCPO in May.
Numerous requests relayed through his NCPO contacts for his money to be “unfrozen” have met with failure.
“They said they’ll see to it, but nothing happened. I am puzzled. I always report myself to the [military] court when ordered, yet my assets are still frozen. I am not running away, so why do they not [unfreeze] it?”
The clocks sell for Bt2,900 apiece. They’re no ordinary clocks, however, as the dial features an image of the famous historic bronze plate commemorating the 24 June 1932 revolt, which ended absolute monarchy.
“I thought there should be some symbolism to it,” said Sombat, whose wife and daughter have fled to the United States for safe haven, adding that these days he spends time delivering the clocks to his customer-sympathisers in person.
Some 200 clocks have been sold so far and as they tick away, Sombat wonders when his money will be unfrozen.