On Monday morning, student activist Sirawit Serithiwat, better known as “Ja New," bravely announced that he would forfeit his right to postpone his military conscription.
It appeared he would face the same fate in the lottery as any other young Thai man – if he draws a black card, he is spared conscription, but if it is red, he faces mandatory military service.
However, the high-profile story took another twist on Monday afternoon as he was about to enter the draw, when his mother said she had a hospital medical certificate that recommended that her son should not be conscripted because he is overweight.
When the issue came to a head, he refused to take off his shirt in public, saying privacy was his basic right, and instead went into a private room to be measured by an officer. When he came out from the examination, he said he was overweight, which qualified him for an exemption in mandatory military service.
“I’m here today according to the law. I’m not opposing the law as it was not issued by the National Council for Peace and Order. However my presence has seemed to attract special attention as I have been followed by Army officers all the time,” he said.
The exemption due to his weight means that he is permanently spared participating in the military.
Sirawit told reporters that he felt relieved but not happy because being overweight could affect his health. He added that he would work to lose the weight.
“Ja New”, or Sergeant New, made headlines in December 2015 when he led a group of students activists to board a train to Hua Hin, threatening to launch an inspection into alleged corruption in the construction of the Rajabhakti Kings Park project.
His group was stopped by authorities at Ban Pong Railway Station.
Sirawit had been on a list of university students who have asked for postponements for years, but he offered to enter the draw on Monday.
In the morning, Sirawit attempted to speak to reporters but was told by military officials that he could not do so in the conscription tent. After a brief dispute, Sirawit left the tent and told the media the story.