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A Postcard for Benny
And free software for you. So please do your part - it's a worthy cause.
The following comes from Xnews for 14 June 2006. See the end of the article for the surprise.
A POSTCARD FOR BENNY
This is a long story, but there's punch line (and a surprise) at the end. So do read on.
 Background - FTA
As some of you may know, we've been in contact with Sabine Zanker of Fair Trials Abroad for some time. Sabine is a wonderful woman who's been nothing but support.
Fair Trials Abroad was started by the British solicitor Stephen Jakobi when he found out about a curious case 'abroad' involving two British teenage girls and a shipment of heroin worth tens of millions on the street. Jakobi saw the ridiculous in the case: no drug 'mafia' would ever entrust such a fortune to two teenagers.
Jakobi got involved, got the girls off, and founded Fair Trials Abroad. Sabine, a German lawyer, now runs the show from an office in London. She also has reps at the EU in Brussels amongst other places.
We found out about Benny by reading at Sabine's site. It's a curious case to say the least, and we can never hope to have all the details, but you'll have to admit that even with what's known it makes the Keystone Kops look like forensic geniuses.
On to our story.
 Benny's Story
Benny is a Swedish national. He came to Sweden as a child refugee from Iran with his parents. He's 36 years old. He's been in a Thai prison for six years and he hopes to be released in another three if his sentence can be halved in one of the king's general amnesties. The Swedish embassy made arrangements for him to finish his sentence in a Swedish prison, but that would mean soliciting an admission of guilt from Benny and he has refused. If he'd been transferred to Sweden, Benny might have been a free man years ago.
Benny was married to a Thai woman. In 1995 they were traveling through south east Asia together and decided they'd settle there - in the Phuket province. Following a major investment in their own business Benny was accused of not having a valid work permit.
Benny insists this is because the local authorities expected to be bribed on a regular basis - US$250 at a go to keep them from harassing. Benny refused to pay - consequently he was deported. Also, the rebuffed policeman put his name on a list of 'persona non grata' - people 'dangerous to the national security of Thailand'.
Benny was back home in Sweden for two years. When he found out about the blacklist, he protested - but in vain. He returned after two years to both process his divorce and to pursue a complaint against the police who'd put his name on the blacklist.
In an unrelated incident in August 2000 Benny lodged a complaint against another policeman who'd taken US$6000 from him. When the policeman promised his money would be returned Benny dropped the complaint.
But two weeks later the 'dirty cop' organised a raid on Benny's home. Using faked documents from his earlier immigration case and finding Benny had two computers, an Internet connection, a printer, and a scanner, the 'dirty cop' arrested Benny on charges of 'computer hacking and forgery' [sic].
Already four days later the charges were dropped - but that did not mean Benny was a free man. Instead the police kept him incarcerated, kept his passport, and made a new list of charges. Now Benny was accused of 'extortion and kidnapping' [sic].
A Syrian Benny had been helping with translations and legal paperwork now contacted Benny in prison. He told Benny that for $10,000 he'd see Benny was released.
Benny naturally grew suspicious of the Syrian's involvement in the whole affair.
Benny refused the Syrian's offer, so the Syrian went back to the police and had an accusation of 'armed robbery' added to the charges. We do not know who this Syrian is or what Benny otherwise knows about him.
The Swedish embassy - who up to this point had shown at least token support for Benny's case - now left the scene completely, promising to visit again within a week but not returning for a full fifteen months [sic].
Benny's health took a turn for the worse. He received no medical care in prison and lost 40 pounds in weight. To make matters even worse, Benny's solicitor also turned out to be a scoundrel: he absconded with Benny's money and his automobile both. [He finally was brought up on charges and disbarred.]
 The First Trial
The case that finally went to court against Benny alleged the following: Benny, along with five other unnamed people who never appear in court or anywhere else in the case or proceedings [sic], supposedly beat and robbed the mysterious Syrian.
- No stolen property was ever recovered;
- The Syrian couldn't prove he actually owned anything he claimed was stolen;
- There were no witnesses to the supposed assault and robbery - none;
- The Syrian holds to his story about being beaten with a bat in a room measuring 3 x 3 metres and falling 4 metres [sic];
- The Syrian admittedly was in a bar drinking at the time of the alleged assault;
- The Syrian waited a fortnight to contact the police.
After fourteen months in prison Benny was tried for the above charges. No further mention was ever made of the five supposed accomplices [sic]. He was convicted of participating in an assault and sentenced to 21 years.
Fourteen months were later added to this sentence for possession of a gun without a gun licence. Benny had been asked if he had a licence to bear firearms - he replied he did not because he very simply did not possess firearms. The police twisted this to imply Benny in fact did have a firearm, although they could never produce it.
 The Second Trial
Benny got a new solicitor and began a process of appeal in January 2002. The new trial took place a year and a half later. All charges against Benny were dropped.
Here is where it gets interesting, for you'd think that when this case was finally thrown out of court Benny would be a free man. But you'd be wrong.
Here is what happened instead.
- The prosecutor in the case Benny's just won appeals to the supreme court.
- The supreme court agrees to hear the case again.
- The prosecutor insists that although Benny has already been acquitted he should be denied release and denied bail both.
- The courts uphold this opinion.
So now you have a technically free man who's already sat several years in prison and he has to still go on sitting there?
While Benny was waiting for the case to come before the supreme court, he pursued the Syrian he suspects is behind the whole thing. This ultimately led to an arrest warrant for the Syrian.
 The Third Trial
The supreme court in Thailand ruled in Benny's case in July 2004 and reversed the earlier ruling, finding him again guilty as charged. Benny's original sentence was to stand. Benny's lawyer threw up his hands, claiming it was pointless to fight the Thai legal system.
Benny now hired a third lawyer to make a formal complaint to the king and also filed a lawsuit against his first lawyer - the one who ran off with the money and car - and that lawyer was as a result disbarred.
Benny, who is now proficient in Thai and Thai law, plans to sue all the original witnesses to get to the truth. The case was postponed once; it was rescheduled for 23 January 2006; what's happened since we do not know.
The authorities have accepted Benny's complaints against one officer and nine prosecution witnesses in his original trial and as a result they are now facing a criminal trial where they are accused of perjury. Benny has also become proficient in writing in Thai. He started writing to the local papers and regularly gets his letters printed. Undeterred by his situation, he started filing complaints against corrupt policemen, the Crime Suppression Division, the Immigration Department, the Correction Department, and even the Ministry of the Interior.
The Human Rights Organisation of Thailand have taken an interest in Benny's case. His fellow prisoners joke that he should get in the Guinness Book of Records as the World's Greatest Complainer. Benny uses his new skills to help many of his fellow prisoners with translations, with pleas for the king's pardon, for requests, for appeals. He's become a thorn in the side of the Thai prison service and has been transferred several times.
Benny's too popular with the inmates and much too unpopular with the prison officers as he's been too good in helping inmates stand up for the few rights they're entitled to - eg using radios, obtaining newspapers, stopping the use of shackles, and allowing foreigners to phone their families.
 Fair Trials Speak
Fair Trials Abroad say the following about the legality of Benny's situation.
- When being questioned at the Crime Suppression Division, Benny had no legal representation, as the lawyer provided was watching Thai boxing on TV instead of advising Benny [sic]. The only people present were a Lieutenant Colonel of the police force and Benny.
- Benny's complaint against his accuser was thrown away by the police. (Not thrown out as in 'dismissed' - literally thrown away.)
- No translator was present and Benny could not understand the charges made against him.
- At sentencing, the first court falsely claimed Benny said he was in hospital at the time of the alleged incident.
- Though the Lieutenant Colonel admitted in court that Benny and the Syrian had known of each other before the alleged incident, the court did not take this into consideration in bringing the guilty verdict.
- The original prosecutor was a nicer, fairer man who seemed intent on having a fair trial. However he was removed and replaced by another prosecutor who coached the complainant before and during the trial - with no intervention by the judges. The complainant was shown court papers before testifying, in Benny's presence.
- At the appeal, the judges clearly stated in their reasons for the acquittal that Benny's prior dealings with the Syrian made the latter's testimony unconvincing.
- Benny was forced to state that he had never had a licence to possess a gun. He didn't want to do so - because he's never had a gun and so never needed a licence. But he was forced to answer 'yes' or 'no'. The statement was used to convict Benny, as 'where the defendant says he had no licence to possess a gun, it means he had a gun without licence'.
 Where We Come In
If you surf to the Fair Trials Site, you'll see they recommend you help Benny and the others. By for example writing them a letter of encouragement.
But the sad fact is that although we wanted to help Benny, we know how terrible we both are with terrestrial mail. And in Benny's case there's no electronic mail he could have available.
This is when I thought of the 'A Postcard for Benny' campaign. Very simply, it means you, wherever you are, go to your kiosk or chemists, pick up a picturesque postcard of your local area, and address it as follows with a few words of hearty greetings such as 'Hey Benny! Greetings from [your area]! We're with you!'
> This is Benny's latest address:
> Benny Jantharakul-Moafi
> Klong Prem Prison D2
> 33/2 Ngam Wong Wan Road
> Bangkok 10900 Thailand
And then you sign your (first) name(s), put an air mail stamp on it, put the stamp for 'air mail' on it, and then drop it into a postbox.
We think this would be cool because:
- It's hard to write a letter to someone you don't know; but
- It's relatively easy to send a brief word of encouragement; and
- Benny will undoubtedly have a lot of fun with all the postcards; and
- He'll think it's really cool!
So here's his address. Go out, get a postcard, address it, write a few lines, and drop it in a postbox. Today if you can.
> This is Benny's latest address:
> Benny Jantharakul-Moafi
> Klong Prem Prison D2
> 33/2 Ngam Wong Wan Road
> Bangkok 10900 Thailand
Now here's the interesting part. For if you send us a photo of your postcard, signed and stamped and ready to run, we will send you a one-time 'as is' copy of the ACP - Rixstep's 70+ application collection for OS X - FOR FREE.
Think you can do it?
Let's all have a bit of fun here and see how much we can help. And if this succeeds, we will have two more campaigns coming up: the next will be postcards to the Swedish embassy in Bangkok, and the final one will be to the Thai king himself.
OK - go get those postcards! And we'll be waiting to hear from you!
PS. We had one last question to ask of Sabine before beginning this campaign - namely if the prison people would get on Benny's case for this.
Sabine says they won't. So it's full speed ahead.
How To Do It, Where To Write
This is easy. All you have to do is purchase a postcard and an international stamp. You get the 'airmail' sticker for free. Then you take a picture of the postcard, addressed and stamped, and send a link or a copy to the address you find here. Mark the message 'A Postcard for Benny'. Someone will contact you in a few days with further information.
[Note: this offer expires 30 June 2006 but you're always encouraged to send a postcard to Benny and have it published here. Ed.]
Postcards & Letters
A selection of the postcards sent Benny as well as feedback on the campaign.
All at Rixstep,
What a terrible state of affairs, and I have to salute your concern and your actions. Looking at the attached photo I know I have to write again, on a bigger damn card to get the whole address on clearly and with a corrected name. (If the Thai prison service is anything like the British prison service they love messing about with iffy paperwork of any kind.) As well as to continue what you have started.
This reminds me how tenuous justice is in many parts of the world, often those we least expect, and how anyone can fall foul of it.
Good on you all,
Just got your mail about Benny. Good for you guys - I once got into some trouble in the middle east and 'disappeared'. Got out through the efforts of a complete stranger who heard about me and knew how the system worked. This is a *good* thing to be doing. My first card has gone today and as I am going to be doing some travelling for the next few months up the east coast of Australia and then through India I am going to be sending him a card every few weeks. If his address changes let us know through your newsletter.
Best regards and keep it up.
A great initiative!
I would love to see Benny's face and I hope for many more of them.
Take care Sabine
An absolutely and totally cool thing!
The postcards for Benny is a great idea. I used to do some jail support for environmental activists and I know that getting cards means a lot to people when they're locked up. Good on you guys for this!
all the best,
Here's mine (sent from Nanming, China).
TNX for your support on cases like Benny's!
He will love this one!
Thanks and good night Sabine
PS Have you bought a postcard yet?