From the man called ‘Wa’ to the man called ‘Krasae’
A reflection on Thailand’s justice system?

26 June 2017

written by: Naowarat Suesa-ad


A live broadcast on ‘E-jan’ facebook page allowed me to witness the minutes ‘Wa’, the scapegoat who was jailed over a wrongful murder, walked free from Ubonratchathani prison into the arms of his mother, wife, sisters, toddler daughter, practically his whole family.   He bent down to the ground in front of his mother to wai her (putting both his hands clapped together as a form of paying respect).  They cried while holding each other.  I couldn’t help crying as if this was happening to my own family.  Later, elder relatives and friends took turn to tie holy threads around his wrist, a ritual of the northeasterners of Thailand to express loving care and to give protection to the person.  They also sprinkled holy water collected from 9 temples to chase away bad omens.


Wa or Worawit Sinthongnoi is the latest scapegoat I got to know.The court of first instance sentenced him to death for murder. The Supreme Court acquitted him and all other defendants of the murder because new evidence was provided by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), the Ministry of Justice. The new evidence which came out of the scientific forensic test and analysis proved that all the defendants were innocent.


But his bad fortune did not leave him yet. On that same day, he was acquitted, the police arrested him again claiming that he used a cell phone while in prison to deal in drugs. The DSI went to the field again to investigate and finally got evidence that he had not links to the said drug trade. They found that there were six prison mates who had the same name ‘Worawit’. Five out of six were in prison on accounts of drug dealings except him who was detained on murder charge. That was how he was let free to be reunited with his family again.


After the live broadcast ended, I said to myself “I hope he will be the last scapegoat in Thailand” … although I am fully aware this is unlikely.


Talking about scapegoats, I think about Mr. Krasae, who was one of the scapegoats in the murder case of Sherryann, the Thai-American teenager. Krasae was the first scapegoat I got to know. I had a chance to talk with him and support him to build a career. I said the final goodbye at his funeral. His full name is Krasae Ployglum and he used to work as the head of a security team and was the main pillar of his family. In 1986, he, along with three others were accused and sentenced to death based on evidence that was later proved to be fabricated. A different team within the police force managed to investigate and arrest the real murderers.


But seven years spent in prison on death row has caused his family to totally collapse. His wife was under tremendous stress which led to her untimely death. His 17 year old daughter who was preparing for a study trip in Japan was raped and killed. The police could not find anyone responsible for the crime. The younger son disappeared without a trace. He became disabled due to damaged spine caused by torture during interrogation. The torture haunted him for the rest of his life. “Whenever I see a police man, I am so afraid I would be tortured again”, he said.


The other three accused also experienced big losses. One of them died while in prison due to mental stress as well as weak physical health and harsh prison conditions. Another one died shortly after he was released from prison. The third one managed to survive his prison term although he lost a lot of life opportunities. But sadly, after some years outside prison, his life gave in to cancer. In 2003, Mr. Krasae and the families of the victims of injustice won the court case they filed against the National Police Bureau and were granted 26 million Bahts to all four victims.


I had a chance to meet him in 2011 when we invited him to give a talk about torture by government agents. He was convinced that torture is not a way to get the truth out. “When you are severely tortured, you would say whatever the police want you to say. That’s how scapegoats are set up.


Finally Krasae died of heart failure on 12 October 2004. His wife at the time (who only got together with him after his release from prison) said he just fell to the floor shortly after dinner and died. That ended his long ordeal of 26 years living with the memories of torture.


As the Prime Minister expressed the intention to reform the National Police Bureau, I would like to support this project as long as it pays attention not only to the structure of the Bureau but also to the quality of its work. I hope that all investigations in Thailand rely more on forensic evidence rather than using confessions or witnesses’ testimonies. The most important thing is to scrap the age old myth that the real bad guys never confess. Such a myth supports torturing for confession. So- called safe houses often used to get confessions out of the accused are illegal therefore they should not be there. The interrogation that uses torture will never give us truth and often ends up punishing innocent people who become scapegoated. 


“Letting ten bad guys free is better than to punish one innocent person”. This motto which is upheld by legal community worldwide over should be applied in Thailand too.