Kyoto – Prosecutors sought two years in prison Thursday for a 43-year-old man suspected of invading the home of Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a prominent critic of the Thai monarchy who is living in exile in Japan, and attacking him and his partner with a chemical spray.
During the first hearing in the trial at the Kyoto District Court, Tatsuhiko Sato admitted to the charges and said the July 2019 attack was carried out at the instruction of a “senpai” (“superior”). Under questioning from one of the prosecutors, Sato repeatedly declined to name the individual.
The ruling is expected to be handed down June 8.
Pavin, a Kyoto University professor, told the court he continues to live in fear.
With the defendant looking on, the Thailand native, whose biting and satirical commentary about his home country has made him an internet celebrity in Thailand, detailed the attack and the effect it has had on his mental well-being.
“The thought of being woken up in the middle of the night by a hooded man standing over your bed is chilling, even to this very day,” Pavin said.
“Any noise I hear in the middle of the night immediately wakes me up. I no longer have peace of mind even in my own home.”
According to NHK, the prosecutor told the court that Sato had visited the victim’s home at least once before the incident, calling it a “deliberate and sophisticated crime.”
“There were several other people involved in the attack, and it was an organized crime,” the prosecutor said.
While Pavin focused his statement on the mental impact of the home invasion, he also hinted at his long-held belief that the Thai government had a role in the crime.
The professor told the court that he has no enemies in Japan and that his penchant for breaking taboos by openly discussing the monarchy leads him to believe that his “only enemy was the Thai palace.”
Pavin also addressed his alleged attacker directly, demanding answers that the suspect did not provide.
“Why did you attack me? I have never met you or know you. And, if you attacked me on someone’s behalf, then who are those behind the attack? What are their motives?” he said.
Speaking after the hearing, Pavin said that the suspect’s admission of guilt had given him a partial sense of closure, but that the outstanding questions over who the alleged attacker was working for still weigh on his mind.
“This is not the end of the road,” he said.
The Thai Embassy in Tokyo declined to comment on the case.
Soon after the attack, Thailand denied the country had anything to do with it.
“We have our hands full in addressing problems internally in Thailand. And to think that we dispatch people to go assault people overseas — that is impossible,” the country’s then-army chief, Gen. Apirat Kongsompong, said according to a Reuters report.
Pavin, who worked for Thailand’s foreign ministry prior to taking a teaching job at one of Japan’s most prestigious universities, has gained a massive following on social media for his criticism of the Thai government and monarchy. At times, his commentary takes the form of dramatically lip-synched TikTok videos.
In a 2020 interview with The Japan Times, Pavin said he used his “split personality” — part academic, part brash, unfiltered social media entertainer — to bring wider attention to issues in Thailand, where a strict lese majeste law punishes criticism of the royals with up to 15 years in prison.
Pavin is not the first to link Thai authorities to attacks carried out against dissidents overseas.
Human Rights Watch’s 2020 report on Thailand noted that numerous Thai dissidents exiled in Southeast Asian countries have disappeared in recent years, including prominent anti-royalist Surachai Danwattananusorn, who had a sizable following on YouTube. The Thai military also denied culpability in that case.
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