Ekachai Hongkangwan, 43, has made a name for himself by courting media headlines with his activism. In June 2017, he was detained while attempting to install a replica of a missing plaque commemorating the 1932 revolution. For his most recent stunt, he tried to give deputy prime minister-slash-minister of defense Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan an old Seiko, an allusion to Prawit’s recently revealed multi-million-baht watch collection.
How did you come up with the watch idea?
It’s my own watch, which I bought in 2004. I don’t want the news about Prawit’s expensive watches to fade away, and for people to act like nothing ever happened, so I’ll continue to trail him with the watch and to keep the issue alive.
How did you come by your unique style of protest?
Before 2014 [the most recent military coup], protests took the form of big groups of people wearing yellow or red. That kind of protest was banned after the military takeover, and many activists have kept quiet for fear of being arrested. The sign-holding, group-gathering protests are gone. So I came up with an idea of protesting in a way that wouldn’t get me into legal trouble.
How did you become an activist?
I used to sell lottery tickets. Under Thaksin Shinawatra’s regime, I was making money off a plan for machines that sold lottery tickets. I didn’t care about politics or Thaksin. The new government canceled the machines, which cut my income completely. That’s when I starting protesting.
Tell us about being detained by the military.
I was detained at military prison twice plus once at Kanchaburi-based camp, and countless times in other rooms. The first two times at the military prison I was in solitary confinement, which was horrible I have to admit. I was released within a day. Last October, after I vowed to wear red on cremation day, I was given the options of military prison or Kanchanaburi. I picked Kanchanaburi. I was told to go sightseeing and given B5,000, which ended up paying for the meals of my guard of four police officials and one soldier, which made me look like a Mafioso. On the day of the cremation, the 26th, I was wearing red and they refused to take me outside.
Did those experiences scare you?
Not really. It’s more annoying, because I’m followed all the time. They know where I’m going, so why not meet me at my destination? Plus, once you are in the news, they [the junta] wouldn’t dare ‘disappear’ you. I also always post my planned activities on Facebook.
How important to you is freedom of expression?
It’s important under a normal government, but with this military government, where there is so little of it, it’s even more important to speak out. If we keep quiet, we are just allowing everything to pass. I never used to care about politics. Only when it affected me did I realize that it actually affects everyone. Thai people are accustomed to not being confrontational, and they just end up getting used to the new environment.
What’s your next move?
I’m still trying to give this cheap watch to Prawit. I don’t really plan my next moves. I play it by ear and keep up with the news, but I always post my activities first on Facebook.
Do you think we will have an election any time soon?
Definitely not this year. The military is planning to set up their own party and it won’t happen if they feel like they can’t win. That’s why they keep changing their decisions about the election.