Why did the Thai military junta keep us as their "guest detainees" for up to a week without charges?
Is it about intimidation, punishment, a show of power, a psychological ploy, a mere warning – or all of the above?
One Army colonel at the military camp in Ratchaburi province, where a dozen of us ended up under military detention, said it was like handing us a football yellow card but not yet a red card. His boss, the camp’s commander, who holds the rank of major-general and who called us “older brothers”, said we should think of the “stay” as a sort of “vacation”. Most of us couldn’t fail to see who was the real “Big Brother”, as we were being observed, our phones taken away and not knowing when we might be able to leave, if at all.
They treated our group, which included two former deputy prime ministers, the leader of the yellow-shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy, Sondhi Limthongkul, the legal adviser to former premier Yingluck Shinawatra, red-shirt leaders, myself and others with respect and politeness. Make no mistake, it was like being in a surreal Big Brother Reality Show where, instead of voters making the call, it was the military junta calling the shots. Most of us simply wanted to get the hell out of the camp as soon as we could instead of being the last man held.
I had the “honour” of being the only detainee at the camp to have stayed alone for eight hours the day before I was released. In the period of six days at the camp, some cried, some cracked, while many others begged to be released as soon as possible.
Not that the food or the conditions were particularly bad – in fact it was much better than I had expected and the major-general as well as his five deputies, mostly holding the rank of colonel, were all very friendly. We had air-conditioning in our bedrooms. We could walk around the camp. We even played a friendly football match against our “captors’ on one afternoon where I, as a goalkeeper, failed to prevent our opponents from scoring four goals.
All the niceties and friendly exchanges during meal times – at breakfast, lunch and dinner – with these senior Army officers couldn’t cover up the fact that we were being kept as political detainees with no habeas corpus. One detainee, an academic, tried to laugh things off but his laugher sounded more hollow and fearful as the days passed.
Some were “interrogated” in Bangkok a few times. Two fellow detainees faced a seven-persons-to-one interrogation. I was lucky to have not been interrogated, but all of us had to sign an agreement that we would not join, lead or aid anti-coup protests.
I was released on Saturday, but some 26 hours later I received a call from one unnamed colonel who asked me to stop tweeting and criticising the junta, now calling itself the National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO). He said the generals wanted a period of time free from my criticism.
Then another colonel, this time from the camp where I was detained, rang me up a few minutes after telling me frankly that I was being monitored. Big Brother is watching me.