THAILAND: Somchai Neelaphaijit–Reading between the lines (2)

To mark the fifth anniversary of the police abduction and forced disappearance in Bangkok of human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit on 12 March 2004, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is distributing a series of three extracts from the newly-released English translation of a book by his wife, Angkhana, first published in Thai to mark the same date in 2008. The book, Reading between the lines recalls her husband’s efforts for justice during his own life, and her family’s struggle to uncover the truth and hold the perpetrators to account after his disappearance. It is rich in personal recollections as well as details about the case, including translations of many communications and court records. It is an important addition to the literature on forced disappearance in Asia, and especially, English-language material on forced disappearance in Thailand, of which there is very little. The 144-page book, which has been published by the Working Group on Justice for Peace, is available to download from the AHRC website at:

The second extract is from chapter 2, “On the trail of Khun Somchai”. 


The private life of my children and myself began to change after Khun Somchai’s disappearance. From being someone who liked to work behind the scenes, who liked her privacy, I had to become someone who had to answer questions, both from the media and from well-wishers (and from those who did not wish us well), someone who had to appear on TV almost every day, and everywhere I went, people turned to look at me. 

From being a person who did not like using a mobile phone, I had to adapt and use one, because I had to answer questions from everyone all the time. 

I began to feel oppressed by the changes in my life. Many people loved Khun Somchai and tried to help me and the children. Friends from the office said at the beginning that they would look after our family and many groups wanted to help. 

As I have already said, Khun Somchai helped many people. The day he wasn’t there, many people wanted to look after his family. 

But I and our family were not used to receiving help and many people maybe did not know us very well or understand what kind of people we are. So some people looked at me as arrogant and proud. 

And because of my calm nature, I wasn’t used to expressing anger, sorrow or aggression. This meant that no one knew what I was thinking. 

I believe that anger and ignorance are fires that cannot burn others but can burn and destroy ourselves and harm the ones who we love and who love us. So I never let anger and ignorance arise in me or our family. 

I also believe that the feeling of anger will prevent us from enjoying peace of mind and make us lose the path of wisdom in solving our problems. 

I spent about almost one full year mending the spirits of myself and our children by not joining any activities, not talking about Khun Somchai’s disappearance and trying not to think about what had been done to Khun Somchai. Most of my time was spent with our children. I was constantly persecuted and threatened, even to the point of people coming in and opening their bag to show many guns in it. 

I had never been angry with Khun Somchai when he devoted his work to others without thinking of himself or his family but I was surprised that no matter how much Khun Somchai sacrificed and dedicated himself, he could not strengthen civil society in the three southernmost provinces to the point where they could stand up and demand their just rights by themselves. 

Today I have the opportunity to reach these people myself. Most poor people lack education and cannot access various resources by themselves. This is not like high-class people, the intelligentsia or politicians, who try to propose ways to solve problems which I believe are not in the least what local people need. 

I am not interested in why Khun Somchai was disappeared, but I often ask myself why society allows people to disappear without feeling that it is something unusual that society must take responsibility for. 

One year after Khun Somchai’s disappearance, I began to ask the children what we should do. 

We had the choice of doing nothing, with many people trying to make things better. Or we could stand up to demand justice, when we would not know what we would face in the days to come and whether, in the end, there would be any justice for little people like us. 

We could lose family and friends who may not be able to put up with the threats and intimidation. In the end, the family agreed that we should not allow Dad to be disappeared without us doing anything. 

So we had no pleasure in accepting the huge amounts of help that was offered in exchange for the pain of Khun Somchai. 

When the children began to understand, I began to think what we could do, apart from fight the case in court. 

(Tomorrow: “Four years of being disappeared”)

Document Type : Paper
Document ID : AHRC-PAP-002-2009
Countries : Thailand,
Campaigns : Somchai Neelaphaijit
Issues : Enforced disappearances and abductions, Human rights defenders,