Thorns of the Thai rose

Rose

London, May 2014. It’s raining. I’m hiding underneath my umbrella, when I see her arriving. Chatwadee Rose Amornpat, wrapped in her Burbery coat, looks like a typical Londonner (she has been living in London for 11 years). This 34 year-old hairdresser, a little fashionable woman with pink eyes and crystalline voice, makes Thai monarchy shake and has now become Thai royalists’ “Number One Enemy.” For fighting for freedom of speech in Thailand, she was accused last April of lèse-majesté, under article 112 of  the Thai Criminal Code, by her own parents, in a so-called Democratic country. In her home country, she now faces a 100 year-prison sentence.

“Thailand is like North Korea”

Her crime ? She publicly defies the Thai royal family. To Rose, most problems in Thailand are related to the Thai monarchy.

In October 2013, the Yellow shirts started demonstrating again, against an amnesty bill that would have allowed former Prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to come back to Thailand. After a few weeks of protests, Prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra withdrew this bill, but protesters continued to gather on the streets of Bangkok, whistling, singing and picnicking, to force Yingluck to eventually resign.

Rose started to be active again on social media, especially on Facebook. She used her real name and posted videos of her criticising the Thai royal family. The first victim of her attacks was princess Chulaporn, who openly supported the PDRC. The youngest daughter of the Royal couple became Rose’s target after she posted pictures of herself holding a Thai flag and giving her opinion on the political situation. According to Rose, she shouldn’t give her opinion. “ I attacked her a lot; I started talking to her directly.”

This amnesty bill, Rose disagrees with it. “Yingluck has made a huge mistake, and that is why now she has been dismissed by Court. Of course her brother Thaksin has made bad stuff, but, at least, I can criticize him without being put in jail ! I feel Thailand is like North Korea.”

Rose starts to sting

Besides her Facebook activities, Rose is connected with the Red Shirts around Europe ; they exchange information. Their goal is to let information flow through the security wall of the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology and freely be spread around the country. They also send lists of names of ultra royalist activists to embassies, to prevent them from fleeing Thailand.

Slowly, step by step, her friends turned their back on her. Rose’s activities were becoming disturbing for them. “ I know they have been brainwashed. But I also know some of them are very aware of the situation, but they don’t care because they have a comfortable life, and they don’t want it to change.”

The number 1 enemy of the “Rubbish Collection Organisation

Since the failed elections in last February, tensions have risen in Thailand, resulting to rights such as the freedom of speech having started to disappear. Obviously, Rose’s activities strongly irritated the Thai royalists. On their side is article 112 from the Thai Criminal Code that states “ Whoever defames, insults or threatens the King, Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment to 15 years.” This law is the hardest law in Thailand : no bail possible. Thai royalists have been using this article to get rid of their opponents. And Rose is one of them. She has been the number one enemy of Thai royalists, especially since she appears on top of the so-called “Rubbish Collection Organisation” list. A list which identifies all the Red Shirts who may be regarded as being guilty of lèse-majesté.

According to Rose, Dr. Rienthong Nan-Nah, the founder of this organisation, put pressure on her parents to make them file a complaint against Rose. They were publicly mocked, the name of her father’s company was all over the Internet. Her father warned her in March, asking her to stop “I told him it was my duty to tell the world what is happening in Thailand.”

“I’m doing it for the whole Thai people”

It is through Facebook that Rose found out about the complaint against her. She became a “star” in Thailand, her face was all over the media.

“When I found out about this, I was destroyed. I know they had to do it because their lives were threatened. Otherwise, they would have been killed, and the police wouldn’t have done anything.”

Since then, Rose refuses to talk to her father; she no longer stands him telling her to stop. “ I’m not doing it for myself ; I’m doing it for the whole Thai people.” She claims she wants Thai people to live like Europeans : “I want free care, social help, free school.”

For more than a month now, Rose and her family are regularly threatened by Dr. Rienthong, who asks British authorities to send Rose back to Thailand, where she could be judged. Thankfully being a British citizen for 6 years, Rose is protected by the United Kingdom.

Living in Europe opened her mind on Thailand

Born in Bangkok, Rose grew up in what could be seen as the perfect Thai family – a Yellow family. Her mother , Somjintan Amornpat, used to work for the Department of Civil Aviation (she was dismissed after the scandal), and her father,  Surapong Amornpat, owns a design and packaging company. Her older brother is in the navy. Rose studied mass communication and got specialised in politics at Ramkhamhaeng University. Everything seemed perfect. In appearance only.

Military crackdown in 2010

The turning point in Rose’s life was in 2010, during the military crackdown on the Red Shirts (National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship – UDD). At that time, the UDD protested in Bangkok against the rule of Prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, demanding that he dissolve parliament and call an election. Within a month, around 90 people were killed and thousands injured. At that time, Rose was already living in England, and it’s on television that she saw soldiers shooting at people, at journalists, and at volunteering nurses in temples.  Her mind started changing. She was advised to watch a BBC documentary “Thailand – Justice under fire”. 

Rose was shocked by the  shooting scenes and this is when she totally changed her opinion on the monarchy:

“The shooters using M-16 were attached to the King and Queen’s royal guards. Thus I feel the King and Queen knew full well of the massacre. Yet, they made no attempt to stop this hideous action by their soldiers shooting at unarmed Red Shirts. I started shaking, I had fever. I decided I needed to open my mind and I went on the Internet to find every website about Thai monarchy“ .

From that moment on, Rose searched through all the websites she could find, in Thai or in English, giving “evidence about the Thai monarchy stealing money from Thai people.” She also read about the scandals around the royal family. Unemployed at that moment, she spent her time reading censored books such as “The King Never Smiles” by Paul M. Handley. She found out about Bhumipol’s wealth “He’s richer than Queen Elizabeth !”

Rose would send her parents and friends all the links she could find. But her first opponent in Thailand was the ministry of Information and Communication; it would censor most of her links, so her relatives could not open them. Those who could go through the censorship, like her father, would tell her that she had been brainwashed by Thaksin:

“We always fight about politics. My father was mad at me a lot at this time. He supported the shut down of Don Mueng airport in Bangkok by the Yellow Shirts in 2008 by sending money. Also he deeply respects the King ; he has a huge picture of Rama IX on the wall. I asked him to throw it away.”

With her mother, it was a different story : “We never talk about politics, it’s useless. My mother is one of these civil servants, who are really proud to serve the King.”

Meanwhile, Rose became one of the numerous admins of a Facebook page with a title meaning “We used to love Thai royal family.” She realised she was not the only Thai citizen willing to discover the truth, and who was really affected by it. No surprise : Thai government tried to shut it down. Then, her family life kept her away from her computer for a while.

Rose wants the Royal family to be kicked out of Thailand : “I won’t stop until Thailand is full democracy”

With her eyes full of tears, Rose says “This fight made me lose everything, my friends, my family. I still love my dad. He is my best friend. I feel he had to do it.”

The violence of this betrayal from her home country is so strong that she will keep on fighting, no matter what happens. She is not afraid to show her real identity and reported the threats she encountered to Scotland Yard, to the International Criminal Court, to several embassies, to Amnesty International.

She wants to let the world know what is behind the beaches and white sand of Thailand :“I want the Royal family to be kicked out of Thailand. They are the real problem in my country. Thailand needs to be like France ; I want Thailand to be republican. I wish we could have a monarchy like in the United Kingdom, but it is impossible. They like their privileges too much.”

And to the people who threaten her, Rose answers:

“I want to tell people who try to shut me up that it’s not going to happen until Thailand is a full democracy, even if I have to die. At least if I die, the world will see the real face of these people. The pictures from 2010 are stuck in my mind.”

Camille Gazeau is a French journalist and photographer who worked in China and Thailand.