‘No plans to shut’ red-shirt prison

Corrections Department chief Witthaya Suriyawong has denied reports that he is planning to shut down a temporary prison in Laksi district which is being used to detain convicts from the 2010 political unrest.

Mr Witthaya, who was appointed as the department's director-general early this month, said he has not yet made any decisions on the future of the prison as there were other urgent matters that he needed to address first.

A source at the prison said officials wanted to close the facility, located at Bang Khen Police Privates’ Training School, because of its high operating costs.

The department has spent millions of baht each year running the jail, which has been used to hold only 20 male and two female inmates for the past two years.

The inmates are being detained for crimes committed during the 2010 political unrest. They include those convicted for  torching Ubon Ratchathani city hall, possessing war weapons in Udon Thani and shooting a military helicopter in Bangkok, the source said.

A total of 15 policemen and 10 department officers have been assigned to guard the prison.

The source said if the jail needed to be closed down, the inmates could be sent to prisons in their home provinces. All of the detainees were serving different jail terms ranging up to 20 years.

The prison was opened by then justice minister Pracha Promnok of the Pheu Thai government to house red-shirt supporters who protested against the Democrat-led administration, leading to a bloody crackdown in May 2010.

Relatives of prisoners in the Ubon Ratchathani city hall arson case said they would be happy if the Laksi prison was closed down, because all of the inmates would then be transferred to their home provinces. This would help save family members the trouble of having to travel back and forth between Ubon and Bangkok to visit the convicts.

“I don’t know if he wants to be moved or not, but I would like for him to at least be detained close to me,” said Chavee Klinkularb, referring to her 25-year-old son Thiravat Sajasuvan, one of the four prisoners convicted in the city hall arson case.

Ms Chavee said relatives have had difficulties visiting the prisoners at Laksi prison because supporters of both the Pheu Thai Party and the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship have been placed under close watch by the military junta and have not been allowed to travel.

Vasana Mabut, mother of arson convict Pattama Moolmil, said whatever the final decision on the prison's future, red-shirt members could not say anything.

But she shared Ms Chavee’s belief that it would be more convenient for relatives if the inmates were moved to prisons closer to home.

Lawyers Association of Thailand president Narinpong Jinapakdi said he disagreed with any attempt to close down Laksi prison.

"The junta has vowed to reconcile with other people, but this facility was opened to accommodate detainees who are considered political prisoners. Closing this prison would be a misstep,” Mr Narinpong said.

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