One woman’s campaign against A112 may lead to gaol-Bangkok Post

February 7, 2012

‘Joss Stick’ Stands alone, Defiant and Unapologetic

Thammasat student Abhinya Sawatvarakorn’s political views have seen her ostracised from classmates and even her own family, but the 19 year old refuses to back down when it comes to airing the views she is passionate about

Bangkok Post: January 29, 2012


Abhinya Sawatvarakorn trusts in democracy, but she can’t say the same for the legal system and the political traditions of her country. But her fate may be decided by the very legal system she distrusts, a system she believes is influenced by politics.

[Pornprom Satrabhaya]

On Feb 11, she will be summoned by the police to answer charges that she has violated Section 112 of the constitution, the lese majeste law. Her family won’t be there for her, only her lawyer and a group of friends who are also student activists.

The public knows the 19-year-old Thammasat student as Karntoop or Joss Stick. The first-year student is famous for having allegedly posted lese majeste messages on her Facebook page in March and April of 2009.

Since then Ms Abhinya has become the target of a witch hunt. She was shut out of three universities despite passing their entrance exams before being accepted by Thamassat’s social welfare department. The media and royalist groups have hounded her.

Ms Abhinya doesn’t mind letting the press publish her full name, which isn’t her birth name. She changed her name, not out of fear, but because her family demanded that she do so. However, she does mind exposing her face.

On Feb 11, she plans to show up at the police wearing a mask with the number 112 written on it.

Sitting in a cafeteria at Thammasat’s Rangsit Campus, wearing a Nitirat (a group of Thammasat academics in favour of amending the lese majeste law) T-shirt, Ms Abhinya talked to Bangkok Post Sunday.

So what did you actually post on your Facebook page?

What I wrote on my Facebook page isn’t what the police are charging me with. They are basing their case on the forwarded emails of the people who accused me. Those people took screen captures of my Facebook page and added messages that I did not write and forwarded them around. The entire thing is based on forwarded emails.

But you did write something.

Yes, I wrote my opinion that I believe in.

How did you come to arrive at your political stance?

A lot of it is from reading. I read about the changes made by King Rama 5. I read about the abolition of slavery. I read Fah Diew Gun [a book on the monarchy and democracy]. I also like to read debates on web boards. When two sides are debating there is a lot of information. You can study their motives and reasons.

Was your Facebook page your political platform?

No. Those messages I just posted to express my opinions. Other than that my Facebook posts were just like anyone else’s, being crazy about stars, heartbroken, love, irrelevant things. I think it’s funny that the charges weren’t based on what was written on my Facebook page, but on emails forwarded by others who distorted my words.

What does your family think about this?

Usually we disagree on many things, on everything. They want me to stop my political activities. But I refuse. I feel like I have to do something. So they told me to change my name. My father came up with ‘Abhinya’. He said it was a good name and that it was given to him. I came up with my own last name, Sawatvarakorn. [Her father is an office worker, her mother is a housewife. She has one older sister and one younger half brother. They live in Ratchaburi province.]

How is your relationship with your family?

We live apart, but are still in contact. Nobody talks to me at home. For example, if they’re at the dinner table when I walk in they’ll just look at me and go back to eating, not saying anything. I just go ‘OK’ and then find my own food. So I go my own way. But we still keep in contact.

Do they still support you financially?

I work part-time and support myself. But they have already paid for my school tuition in full.

You mentioned ‘political activities’ _ what were you involved in?

Back in 2009 I spoke at a UDD demonstration on Ratchadamnoen. I spoke about abolishing the ammart [elite] system and embracing a full democracy according to the vision of Dr Pridi [Banomyong, former prime minister who led the civilian faction behind the 1932 coup that ended absolute monarchy]. That was the only time I was on stage.

How did you get to be on stage?

I won the October 14 Foundation award for my essay on democracy. Later I was introduced to Jakrapob Penkair [former spokesperson for Thaskin Shinawatra] and he invited me on stage.

Reports say that a student once threw a shoe at you. Is that true?

Yes. I was doing some work with classmates and a group of students walked by. A high heeled shoe was thrown at me, then one girl who has both shoes on came to collect the high heel and said ‘sorry, the shoe slipped’. She went back to her friends and they were giggling about it.

Have there been other incidents?

One time, walking into a classroom, somebody said ‘When is she going to be in jail?’ Another time someone asked, ‘She’s not in jail yet?’

Do you have friends at school?

Yes, I hang out with four others from my faculty. We were friends from before they knew who I was. Then others told them who I was and asked them how they could hang out with me. But they didn’t care. They were OK about it.

They are not into politics. We are friends. We talk about actors, studies, fashion and things like that. Then I also have friends who are student activists from other faculties.

How do the teachers treat you?

They sometimes stress me out, but that’s because they are concerned about my welfare and always asking after me. They have enough problems, I can handle myself.

What do you want to be when you graduate?

A teacher. I want to be a teacher like the one in the movie Dead Poets Society.

Why don’t you study law or politics then?

I believe I can do more by studying social welfare. You can reach the people more. There’s inequality in the law, it’s not based on justice. As for politics, it’s too high and mighty, too lofty for ordinary people. Both are irrelevant to most people. With social welfare I can reach the people the most and work with them. I believe humans can change.

Are you worried about the charges you’re against you?

I’m afraid of the arrest warrant. But I’m ready to fight for bail.

Even if I’m arrested, I can live with it. I haven’t received justice since the time they filed charges against me. I’m not afraid of the police. I’m not afraid of jail.

Your family won’t be there for you?

They probably won’t be there. No, they won’t be there.

You are wearing a Nitirat T-shirt; did you sign their petition to amend the les majeste law?

No, I would sign my name if it was a petition to abolish the law.


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