Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Strange Case of Benny Moafi

From his mid-eastern origine, Benny Moafi has kept an inextinguable energy and deep blue, dreamy eyes. The man, with a passion for languages and for photocopies, is a Swedish Iranian businessman who lives in Thailand since 1994. And against all odds, he is still living in the country. This is despite having been arrested in 2000 on what he says were trumped accusations of holding a fake passport and robbery. Sentenced to 22 years in jail, he spent the next 10 years of his life behind bars of various Thai prison.
But this strong willed man decided not to be broken by Thai jail despite the harsh conditions and the beatings he endured. In his cell, he began to learn speaking, reading and writing proper Thai until becoming totally fluent. Then, he registered by letter at Sukhotai Thammatirat university and passed a bachelor degree in Thai law. Then, he simply became a lawyer for himself and his fellow prisonners. To this day, he has filed 206 cases against the police, the Department of Corrections and various government agencies. And he won several cases : his jailers were forced to take off the heavy chains he had permanently tied to his legs. In another case won, the Department of Corrections was forced to take off these chains from all prisonners on death row.
On Tuesday 13th of July, a few months after having been released after having spent the last ten years in jail, Benny Moafi got chained again. But this time, he did it to himself : he locked the chain attached to his legs to the gate of Government House. The scene was astounding. When Mr Moafi arrived, dressed in a prisoner outfit, the intelligence agents of the government (mixed admist Thai journalists) and the police of the control post watched passively. They seem totally overwhelmed by the speed of the events and unable to understand what was going on.
Brandishing a sign board “Double Standards of Justice” and with “Guilty of Innocence” written on his back, Mr Moafi began distributing documents on his case and giving interviews to Thais and Foreign journalists. It was very hot, and Mr Moafi, after an hour, open the lock to chain himself again to the gate in the shade of a tree. The police again was unable to react.
The substance of the discourse of Mr Moafi is that he has been a victim of the Double Standards of the Thai Justice system. According to him, he was wrongly accused and sentenced because of the nexus of collusion linking some policemen, some prosecutors and some judges. And what he is asking for is a re-trial by the Appeal court so that his reputation is cleared and justice is done. And he wanted to deliver a letter to Prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to explain his case. He was not able to deliver this letter to the Prime minister.
He considers his situation to be a small example of the issue of Double standards of Justice in Thailand, a topic emphasized by the recent Red shirts protest from March to May – protests who ended after a government ordered military crackdown. During the demonstrations, at least 90 people were killed according to the official figure : five military, two foreign journalists and 83 demonstrators.
So what will do Mr Moafi next ? In mid afternoon on that mid july tuesday, still sitting near the gate of Government House but without chains (the police had managed to cut them after a few hours of strenuous efforts), he said that he would bring his campaign to the United Nations. But Mr Moafi is a busy man. He has become an expert lawyer to help Foreign prisonners who are in difficult legal situations and his mobile phone is ringing every five minutes. With a wide smile and a spark in his eyes, he says “I have a job to do”.

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