Take Care, Sib: Letters from Prison to Ekkachai Hongkangwan

This is my first letter to you, Big Sib. Bangkok Remand Prison is notorious for how difficult it is to establish contact; this place is worse still. It was probably your mom who DM’d me that you had successfully added my name and surname to your list of relative visitors.

Even though I have been approved for relative visits, in order to set up a Line conversation I have to also change my profile to my legal name and surname. What a big fuss. And email probably won’t work either. So in the end I have fallen back on the olden means of writing a letter. It may be a bit slow, but it gets there.

In November 2022, half a dozen political prisoners received a request to add someone on their list of visiting relatives. That someone was the anti-coup activist and writer Ekkachai Hongkangwan, who had himself been a political prisoner a few times since 2011, each time for distributing CDs, flyers, or a story deemed offensive to national morality. This latest initiative of writing across prison bars by Ekkachai followed his release on bail last September as the obscenity case against him was pending on the Supreme Court.

To some of his addressees-turned-relatives, he was a stranger; to others, a friend. After establishing their fictive kinship, Ekkachai went on to give updates about the political situation outside. Although many sentences were copy-pasted, the language was not generic, with colorful description like “Thalu Gaz Kids (the protestors who like to clash with riot police),” “Thalu Fah Little Sibs (the indie protestors),” or the following paragraph:

It’s been years that you’re in prison. You probably aren’t up-to-date with what’s been going on outside, I presume. Between 2020 and 2021, a new generation became politically active and rose up in large numbers. They like to raise three fingers, the way boy scouts do, following the symbolism of the Hanger Game films. So conservatives have resorted to calling them “3 hooves” [a reference to the Asian water buffalo, the beast of burden associated in Thai culture with stupidity, especially the condition of being an unwitting instrument. –trans.].

Ekkachai ended every letter with sympathy and to take care. Sometimes he also attached articles of the law that might prove useful to the recipient in their study or their legal defense. For example:

Lastly, all that I can do is ask you, Big Sib, to take care of your health. Prior to this, I have requested that support money be sent to every political detainee in prison, 3,000 Baht per person. Have you all got it?  If there is anything you want to write me, write to the address I have provided. Today I have also attached two pieces of legislation, that is, the Firearms Act and the Anti-Torture and Forced Disappearance Act, for your reading and study during this waiting period before fighting your case again in court.

Every political prisoner wrote back. Some continue to write every month. Ekkachai has entrusted those letters under the care of the Siddhi-Issara Foundation, and gave us permission to select passages for publication. Today we present anonymized letters from five of Ekkachai’s new sibs. Our selections highlight the expression of political will and moral support, both between Ekkachai and each prisoner, and from the letter writer to us, their fictive kin from all walks of life who may now be reading.

It’s not just me and you on this path. Patience and strength back to you, too.
I love you the same as before, Big Sib. Take care of yourself, too.
I will keep fighting inside these walls. Upright on my feet with honor.
I’m happy every time I stay with my people, big sibs and little sibs in struggle.

Relative 1

Sawatdee Krup Ekkachai, I’ve added you to the visitor list but when you come visit call my mom first so it don’t clash […] One day’s gotta be our day. Send pictures of our people sometime. As for your case, you go Ekkachai, you have my moral support. Gotta fight if you wanna win 555. If there’s anything contact me. To write through Line you have to do it at Seven or enter Klongprem Prison’s page. If there’s anything write me sometime. I want moral support from everybody, because now I have […] years […] months left. Gimme some of that moral support. Love to every one of you.

Sawatdee Old Year Welcome New Year. How are you all? Doing well? I’m good, 8 years now still the same. This new year, I wish every one of you happiness, take good care of yourselves, think long and hard before doing something that will get you hurt […] The only thing that gives me morale is seeing the little sibs safe and happy […] I want to let them know that I miss them all, but don’t come to prison. Better stay outside, just don’t go quiet. Miss the little sibs, let me know how things are going for them.

Herro Ake, how’s everybody? You went so quiet, did you get my letters? What about the little sibs, are they doing well? […] Ake, tell (name) to buy me some coffee, please. And deposit it in your name because you’re on the visitor list.

Relative 2

To P’Ekkachai, my loveliest big sib, thank you very much for the letter and the things you sent. Previously I wrote you a letter and sent it to D. 4 but later heard that you’d been granted bail. Do you know how glad each of us was to hear that? You are an ordinary person who is very very special to me and to everyone. When I had no food, you gave me some of the public property pork and chicken you got. When I had food, we ate together. No way I’ll forget you, P’Ake. When I talked to my lawyer, I asked about you and all my big sibs and little sibs, who I miss so immensely. I want to say that fate set me on a path to be your little sib since before we ever talked to each other 55+ […] As Thai-born people, we must return the nation’s favor ^^ the day the sky shines gold. The little clumps of grass have now grown taller one by one. When you read this letter, I wish you lots of happiness. It’s not just me and you on this path. Patience and strength back to you, too. I love you the same as before, Big Sib. Take care of yourself, too. I will keep fighting inside these walls. Upright on my feet with honor. I’m happy every time I stay with my people, big sibs and little sibs in struggle.

Relative 3

To Ake, My Brilliant Little Brother
      I received your letter on 14 Nov 22, and was overjoyed. I’ve received your ID, added you to relative visitor list, relation: friend, added since 17 Oct 22, you can now come visit, in-person visit is available every day, visit via LINE is a bit difficult to reserve a spot I don’t know who keeps filling up the spot […] one visit per month available and for just one person. I want you to visit me in person, it’s better, faster too, and we can talk for longer than on LINE. […] It was a great honor, I don’t know if they will be successful in their fight to help the 112 [lese majeste] people, I’ll bide my time, in any case I feel so very thankful to everyone for not forgetting me, that day I thought of you too Ake, but the same day I received your ID along with foodstuffs, so that was one happy day. 
      […] Lastly, I wish you luck in your cases, you’ve fought so many battles, Ake, I get you, it will be our day one day, Time will change everything, all that we’re fighting for, in a positive direction, the kids will win with Time, that is what I believe. May you be healthy, Ake, and strong in body and mind. […] I’ve got to leave this place alive and breathing, definitely not like Ah Kong, I will bide my time, that’s what I’ll do.

          Happy New Year 2023
          […] Tell Amnesty International that
          I wish them all strength in body and mind
         Far away from disease and destitution

Relative 4

To…. P. Ekkachai
   Sawatdee Krup Big Sib, I have received two letters from you.
Thank you so much for taking the time off your day to write me.
[…] As for what’s going on outside, I haven’t followed the news at all,
I just know that the movement continues, in any case
I wish everyone a fighting spirit and also stay healthy ✌

PS. I have added your name to my visitor list.
If you have an opportunity, you can come see me.
Happy New Year in advance.
You have my moral support, Big Sib.

Relative 5

      Sawatdee Krup, thank you for the visitor gifts, I have added you to my relative visitor list. Because I am in the “needs major work” class I am only allowed to write one letter per month, so I had to wait until last month ended before I could write back. For the past […] years I have never been granted pardon. […]
      I’ve had the chance to watch the news on TV multiple times. I saw a new generation come out and do political activism. Their approach is frank and straightforward, which is good, but also results in the lack of support from the royalist masses. It is concerning, the threat of being harmed by royalist groups.
      My time is up. This is the time of the new generation. My moral support to you and the new generation kids to keep walking.
      […] Have you watched a farang film called Brave Heart? If not, I recommend it. An old but very well-made movie. Fun and thought-provoking. It’s about a struggle for independence of the grassroots class in Scotland. You may take a different view. Make time for it if you can.
      May the sacred being in Heaven grant you and yours the blessings of good health and good things in life.

23 January 2023
Sawatdee Krup Khun Ake,
              Thank you for your New Year’s gifts, especially the latest developments from the outside world that you told me about in your letters. They are very valuable to me. […] Last night I heard fireworks people set off to celebrate the Chinese New Year. This morning I thought of you. How are you doing these days? What are you up to? Elections are approaching, so you’re probably very busy, aren’t you? However, your bodily health is the most important thing. Take care of yourself, too.
              […] May the sacred being in Heaven bless you and yours with abundance and happiness, and may He protect you from all danger forever.

2 Feb 2023
Sawatdee Krup Khun Ake,
                […] I have received a money transfer to my account on 23 December, without anyone notifying me of where the money comes from. When I was in Bangkok Remand Prison, I saw multiple political defendants receive this same amount of money every month, so I supposed that it came from the foundation, which is correct as you revealed to me in the latest letter. I am touched. And thank you very much for being the coordinator to have the money transferred to me.
                […] My moral support to you and to every one of our friends, big sibs, and little sibs in struggle.