Sombat “Num” Thongyoi, a former 53-year-old Red Shirt guard has been behind bars at the Bangkok Remand Prison since 28 April 2022, after the Court of the First Instance ordered a jail sentence of six years without suspension for the offenses under Section 112 of the Criminal Code (lèse majesté) and Section 14 (3) of the Computer Crimes Act. Sombat had posted a caption “#Verybrave #VeryGood #Thankyou” to a news image of Thammasat graduates refusing to attend the graduation ceremony on 30 October 2020 and two other texts, referring to the King and royal family members’ autograph signing and attempt to be closer to the people.
In this case, the lawyer has repeatedly submitted bail requests for Sombat during the appeal stage, which the Appeal Court has consistently denied. As such, Sombat has spent seven months in jail so far.
Sombat Thongyoi installs water filters and repairs broken items for work. He developed an interest in politics, as the political crisis of 2005 erupted. Sombat has worn both a yellow and red shirt and was one of the participants in protests organized by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) until the coup d’etat that ousted Thaksin Shinawatra. Since then, he became a firm supporter of the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD).
Despite his strong political affinity, according to his family members, Sombat never forced anyone to choose sides or follow his political ideology, but always encouraged exchanges and discussions.
In 2009, Sombat decided to switch his role from a press member to a protest guard. He stood side by side with red-shirt brothers and sisters until the day of the violent crackdown in 2010. Sombat was one of the guards present on the site where live bullets were shot to disperse the crowd.
The red shirts’ defeat at that time meant the end of his role as a guard, although it, by no means, made him abandon his ideology. His relentless fight has won him the title “Sombat, the former red shirts’ guard”, the name people still refer to him by today.
Throughout the years, Sombat continued to meet disappointment brought by the failures of Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s government. Nevertheless, the new wave of protests led by the young generation sparked a glimpse of hope in the life of this red-shirt guard. It eventually led to his prosecution for violating Section 112 and the Computer Crimes Act. He has been jailed ever since.
According to the lawyer’s visit on 24 June 2022, Sombat, detained at the Bangkok Remand Prison at the time, contracted Covid-19. He said that the symptoms were mild and he did not suffer anything but some fever. He could eat. It was probably caused by overworking and lack of rest.
Life in prison went on. Sombat got a chance to help out in various work units including changing water filters, carpentry, metal work, and library. That said, being imprisoned did not yield any comforts for him. Sombat once called this period “a big storm in my life”.
In September, the lawyer paid several visits to Sombat. As an assistant to mechanic, lifting heaving things was an inevitable task, causing his body to weaken and grow tired. He found his life in prison more and more difficult. He got sick more frequently due to changing weather. On 18 September, he told the lawyer of cough and sore throat, and that he spent most of his time resting in the library instead of doing other things outdoors.
On the matter of bail, Sombat still hopes that the Court would have mercy and finally grant him his right to bail. Especially, this is the surge period, where more customers would seek his services. If he could take on work, he would be able to support his family better.
Sombat is considered a senior activist among those currently in jail at the moment. He said that he was like a big brother among the young activists. He had to act strong and be the source of moral support for them. He held back pain and tears, as showing them may dishearten his young friends. He must be the shoulder for everyone to lean on. He has left a message to those outside,
“Five months have lapsed. I still have hope for a bail. Thank you for not forgetting me.”
*As of 28 November 2022, Sombat has been in prison for seven months since 28 April 2022.