The untold story of Sam Samat, a stateless man detained for joining the fight for equality in the #28FebRally

The name of “Sam Samat” or “Art” appeared on the news on 26 March 2021 as several media outlets reported that the authorities arrested him at his apartment in the Don Muang area under a court-issued warrant. It was alleged that he was the same man pictured to be pretending to urinate on the shipping containers, which the police piled in front of the First Infantry Battalion to block the protestors from entering the venue during the #28FebRally on 28 February 2021.

The inquiry officer has charged him and requested the Court’s order to put him on remand without the presence of his lawyer. Accordingly, he has been held in the Bangkok Remand Prison since 27 March 2021.

Later, on 16 April 2021, the public prosecutor filed an indictment against him, together with 18 other protesters, under five charges. The charges included the violations of Sections 215 and 216 of Thailand’s Criminal Code, jointly resisting officials in the due exercise of official duty, violations of the Emergency Decree, and being a migrant unlawfully residing in the Kingdom.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) paid a visit to Art in prison to monitor his situation and provide legal aid for his case. During the visit, he shared his life background with TLHR and asked that his story be recounted to the public.

Fatherless childhood

Art informed TLHR that his father is a Thai man, whereas his mother is a Cambodian woman named “Rin.” His mother said he was born on 15 August 2001. Therefore, at present, he is only 19 years old. He could not remember at which hospital his mother gave birth to him. However, he recalled that he moved to Sa Kaew Province with his mother when he was around two years old.

His mother broke up with his father before his first memory. As a result, he only knows that his father’s name is “Boonchong Ong-art.” He also vaguely remembers that Boonchong’s nickname is “Id,” and he comes from Petchaboon Province.

“My mom said she used to work with dad. My dad and grandmother loved me, so I don’t understand why my mom took me and fled away from them. My mom once promised she would take me to see my dad, but she didn’t keep the promise. When I was young, people made fun of me for being fatherless and stateless. I tried to tell them that my dad is Thai, and I was born in Thailand. Still, nobody listened.”

Art also vaguely remembers that his mother took him to Bangkok when he was around three or four years old. Both of them stayed with his half-sister, a daughter of his mother and another man. When he was 7 or 8 years old, his half-sister moved back to Cambodia. Therefore, his mother took him back to Wattananakorn District of Sa Kaew Province and got remarried.

“My mom is a daily hire worker; she does whatever people hire her to do. For me, I have been doing everything by myself since I was young. From morning to dawn, I also work to earn money by cutting and growing sugar cane, as well as search for fish and crabs to cook some food at home.”

Legally stateless person

When Art was 13 years old, his neighbor told him that he was an excellent public speaker and salesman and hired him to help sell onions and garlic in Chantaburi Province.

When he was almost 15 years old (the age when a Thai person is required to obtain a national identity card at that time), his employer feared that the police would arrest him if they found that he had no ID card. Thus, she sent him back and told him that he could return to work there once he could get the ID card.

After coming back from Chantaburi Province, Art had to live in hiding and face many life obstacles. He once attempted to commit suicide by consuming pesticides because he resented the lack of opportunities in his life, including his inability to access education and employment.

“I used to cry every day. I asked myself why I could not go to school like other persons, despite being born and raised in Thailand. I could not study or even learn how to write. When I got sick, I could not go to the hospital. I also couldn’t work and didn’t have any purpose in life. This made me feel invisible. I thought that my life would never get better without work and a national ID card.”

Art eventually survived thanks to the help of his neighbor, who took him to the hospital for gastric lavage in time. He said that it was the first time he went to the hospital. However, even though he survived, Art said that that incident had impaired his body. For instance, when he eats hard food, he often experiences rectal bleeding.

Later, he befriended a person who persuaded him to move to Bangkok for work via Facebook. He became an employee for a salon in the Ratchada-Huay Kwang area, receiving daily wages. However, after the 2014 coup d’état, the salon suffered from the ensuing economic impacts and eventually closed down one year ago. After that, he decided to move to the Don Muang area.

Art recounted that when he first moved to Bangkok, his stepfather, who had been sick for a while, passed away. His mother moved out of the house. She claimed that she would be looking for a job, but he has not been able to reach her since then. Therefore, he currently has no relatives or friends. Still, he feels like Thailand is his home. “I was once sent back to Cambodia [by the authorities], but I still returned to Thailand. I simply walked back here and took a van to Bangkok.”

Struggles for equality

When asked about the arrest, Art said, “I have been joining the pro-democracy rallies since 16 October 2020 when the authorities shot water cannons at the protestors for the first time. I always follow news from the Free Youth Group and the Ratsadon Group and believe that every person is a protest leader. I also got tear-gassed once, and Ammy [Chai-amorn Kaewwiboonpan] pulled me out to a safe place. I think it was during the rally in Kiang Kai. After that, I continued to join every event.”

“I decided to join because I witnessed inequality firsthand. I was born Thai but have been treated unequally. I want Thailand to be more democratic.”

“On 28 February, I attended the rally as usual. I began the march from the Victory Monument, holding an LGBT flag. Other protestors encouraged me to go up to the shipping containers. However, I did not actually pee on the police officers. I only acted in a urinating position. It also wasn’t obscene because I didn’t show my genital. I didn’t hurt anyone. I even ran to stop other protestors from throwing things at the police officers.”

“When I got arrested, the police did not allow me to call the lawyer. They did not tell me that I have the right to appoint my own lawyer. I also don’t have a lot of knowledge and cannot read.”

After the police charged Art at the Din Daeng Police Station, they brought him to the Court, which ordered the authorities to put him on remand. No bail request was filed, so he has been detained in the Bangkok Remand Prison since that date.

Missing the outside world

When asked about his detention conditions in prison, Art told TLHR that he was concerned about contracting COVID-19. “Surgical masks are not provided to the detainees. The prison also does not sell alcohol. Even if you had money, you still could not buy any of these necessities. (Detainees need to ask a person outside the prison to buy masks for them). I have a mask because when Toto [Piyarat Chongthep] was here, he gave one to me.”

“The sleeping cell in prison is highly overcrowded. The cell is approximately the same size as the visiting room, which is not larger than 30 square meters. Despite its tiny size, around 50 people sleep in the same cell. Given this condition of congestion, it is impossible to practice physical distancing. The food is also terribly bland.”

“I miss the outside world. It is difficult to cope with the fact that I am in prison. Still, having Frank [Nattanon Chaimahabut] and Somkid [Tosoi] (suspects charged for blocking the car transporting Penguin [Parit Chiwarak] and Mike [Panupong Jadnok]) to help me out.

At first, TLHR misunderstood that Art did not receive bail because he did not have any relatives and could not reach a lawyer earlier. If he had a chance to file for a bail application, there could be a high possibility that the Court will authorize temporary release for him, especially given that other suspects in the same case also have already been released. Nonetheless, his case is more complicated than others because of his lack of legal status and registered place of residence in Thailand.

If anyone could truly understand inequality in our society, Sam or Art must be one of those persons. He is a half Thai, half Cambodian person who could not enjoy his full rights because he neither could contact any family members nor have legal status in Thailand. Further, he even got arrested for joining the fight for equality.

On 26 May 2021, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights visited Art, and found that he contracted COVID-19 and was transferred from the Bangkok Remand Prison to the Central Correctional Hospital on the previous night. His symptoms included vomiting up blood and required close monitoring from medical personnel.

Later, TLHR received an update on Sam’s latest symptoms. According to the medical team that provided his treatment, Sam no longer vomited or had any fever. He had also received Favipiravir pills.

Searching for his parents

According to the law on citizenship, if Sam Samat or “Art” was born to a Thai father, he must be entitled to receiving Thai citizenship under the doctrine of jus sanguinis.

If anyone knows the whereabouts of persons who might be the father or mother of Art, or anybody who might be connected to such persons, please kindly contact TLHR by Tel. 092 271 3272 or 096 789 3173

1. Mr. Boonchong Ong-Art or “Id,” a Thai man from Petchaboon Province (Or any similar names)
2. Mrs. Rin, a Cambodian woman at the age of around 45 years old