Journalists are forbidden to take a record of what is said in Thai courts. And even though they can take a verbatim report, it is what the judge says in his tape recorder which is the only 'true' (but in reality not) record of what goes on in a Thai court. This of course affords a massive opportunity to alter evidence...then you have to add to that the lack of presumption of innocence.
On Boxing Day the prosecution attempted to have witnesses statements introduced without calling the witnesses. Some of them were apparently from the AC Resort.
9:30 am, 26 December 2014, Koh Samui Provincial Courthouse, supposedly 3 km outside of Nathon.
Enter the courtroom, posted start time 9:00 am. Empty. Inquired a nearby gentleman as to the true location or time of the trial, he asks the guard. Reply, maybe around 10-ish, but I do have the right room. Turns out he’s part of the prosecution team. Soon, there are three westerners inside, one is me. The others ask of my involvement. Casual, concern, my reply. They are advocates, the man in support, the woman on watch for human rights. Enter one Thai advocate lawyer, the wife of the foreigner man.
Prosecution files in, two counsellors- one robed Prosecutor, one Chief Prosecutor for Samui, plus two assistants, reams of documents, spools of paper. Presently, four robed defense counsellors enter, produce a few stacks of docs. A door now opens along the back wall, and the two accused Burmese youths amble in, head-shaven, attired in prison burlap, lugging ankle chains and shy smiles, led by a Thai guard, and sit directly in front of me. This is at first unsettling.
No throngs, no protest group, no support for the deceased, none curious. Well, me. Add in the contingent for migrant workers’ rights, a few others, and the three rows of defense pews are nearly full. Three monks proceed straight behind prosecution, and quietly sit looking forward. The two rows behind them are empty.
Now the hoped-for moment arrives for the accused. The families have just arrived from Myanmar, pile in behind the imprisoned lads, black-jacketed FED escorts in tow, and a few of us retreat to the back row.
Two judges enter through their narrow side door, and all rise. As they sit, we sit. Game on.
This is Thai court, for me a new experience. The curiosity I feel immediately is the loose and casual nature of the proceedings. Low volume chat starts up all around, the centrally-seated judge begins talking and the prosecution begins replying and consulting documents, while my poor command of Thai language lacks the ability to follow anything first-hand.
It must be understood that all the case particulars have been explained to me after-the-fact, that in truth, this is a second-hand account of the Koh Tao Murder Trial, day one.
The left side judge is visibly ill, or quite in an uncomfortable state, and soon excuses himself, to be replaced later in the day with another judge. Meanwhile the witness list is being presented by prosecution.
Apparently it’s quite lengthy, and the prosecutor requests that some of the names be excused from actually testifying. The main defense counsellor, apparently playing hard ball, insists that if prosecution feels so many names need to be on the list, then they most certainly will appear in court, as well.
Defense then produces their own witness list, and a similar discussion ensues for this. More than 70 individuals at this point, must at some point take the stand in this trial.
A second apparent prosecution blunder now comes to bear. Among the pronouncements of wrong-doing that prosecution proceeds to assign to the accused is the issue of the two lads working illegally there on Koh Tao. Of note here, is the implications this accusation would have for all of Koh Tao’s businesses- indeed for all islands in the Gulf and beyond- but never mind this for now.
Defense immediately produces the passport of one of the Burmese lads, something that the police on the case somehow knew nothing of.
Prosecution proceeds now to leaf through this passport, and at least one of their accusations has, by appearance, just now been squelched.
Lunch break, and our growing group of advocacy- for migrant workers, human rights- and pardon me for inserting myself for concern- are in frequent discussion about this and that in the case, convening over pews inside court, feverishly tapping news feed into cellphones out of court, and I am treated to a rich crash-course in how concern argues for lives in Thai legal proceedings.
I must inject here the astounded kind of respect I suddenly realize for people, everywhere, who extend concern into a life’s calling, often just scratching by or volunteering, with the limited funding offered for defensive support.
I am among heroes today. Journalists, lawyers, rights’ workers, and the various justice campaigners all walking the tightrope of advocacy, where even slight wrong moves can result in heavy-handed negatives for their causes and defendants. My gut feels tight just in the writing of this.
Afternoon brings more prosecution evidence, long rolls of photo-enfused paper unravelled before the judge, more pronouncements by document, more hushed conversation moving throughout the room.
At one point- recanted to me- the judge flat out asks the accused if they in fact did commit this crime. Answer, no.
Now the judge asks the accused if they in fact did not do this thing, could they perhaps enlighten the court as to clues towards who actually might have? Answer, again, no.
My inexperience demands to know at this point, is this in fact a jaw-dropper....certainly it seems astounding to me, and my thai-speaking advocate friends look, well, astounded.
Pure conjecture leaps forward by now asking if the judge in fact is now suddenly sympathetic towards the accused, and a measured optimism begins to rule the day for all on the defense side.
Having said that, the main defense consellor is now seen at his bench in a knowing kind of grin, at times effusively beaming. This is becoming quite some day in court.
A judge in these courts has quite the duty-laden job, it seems. Much of the day for all is spent watching the judge discussing, questioning, receiving testimony, then filing through mounds of information and speaking into a recorder, occasionally, and re-playing it to listen, then passing on these now-official trial records to a headphoned person who sits off to the side with a monitor and types out the offical transcriptions, while another assistant hands finished documents back to the judge.
Just before days’ end we learn of another break in the case. The judge now declares a delay in the trial, in order for defense to properly wade through the more than 400 pages of presented information and photo-reams- to honorably prepare its case.
The date of July 8 is given as the re-convening date. The defense team is cautiously joyous, the advocates nearly beside themselves. I am nearly horrified, knowing the accused must languish yet another seven months in thai jail. This is not lost on the mothers of the accused- both begin weeping and groping at their boys, and are gently restrained by the guard.
Still, one in this game must learn to count blessings however they may be given, as is duly explained to me.
It is suggested to me by the advocates to go over and visit the accused, as it would do them some good to talk with people. Two of us then sit with them for a full ten minutes, offering what fellowship and encouragement as one might, all things considered.
It occurs to me now, how diminutive, delicate and sensitive these two are, polite, respectful; befitting of Asian youth who have been properly raised. We are introduced to the mothers, and duly pre-empted as one of the quiet monks comes to bestow blessings upon the boys.
I summarize this account with a question: What’s on trial here?
Certainly, two Burmese migrant workers, caught in the vicinity on the night in question, and charged with murder. Violent assailants or covenient scapegoats, for lack of other immediate candidates?
Due Process, on trial.
Prosecution, being received more cautiously, more icily throughout the day by a judge just not having the parade of prosecution information as presented, and bestowing an increased leniency towards the defense.
Integrity on trial.
If we assume the two accused Burmese to be victims of convenient selection, to thereby stand for murder, why were they in fact chosen? Culpable probability, or social status? For exhibiting signs of guilt and dripping with evidence, or for being expendable human fodder?
Human Decency, on trial.
And finally, Buddhist monks not commonly seen in Thai court, sitting immediate to prosecution and calmly staring at the judge throughout the day.
Karma, on trial.
just thoughts. consider this freeware. utilize edit or file inactive, your call.
Koh Pha-Ngan, 27 December 2014.