Dechatorn “Hockhacker” Bamrungmuang was leaving his Bangkok home two weeks ago to take his wife to work when he discovered police cars blocking the way and officers ready to take him into custody.
The Rap Against Dictatorship founder’s crime? Six criminal counts that included inciting rebellion, aka sedition, stemming from his involvement with the largest protests to roil the kingdom since the 2014 coup.
“My wife was so quick. She instantly went online live with her phone. Then the police read the arrest warrant to me,” Dechatorn said. “I called my brother-in-law to take care of my 1-year old baby. My wife called her office asking for a day off. Then we went to the police station together.”
The charges stemmed from his appearance at a July 18 rally at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument that drew a massive crowd of well over 10,000. The group has been staging free shows at numerous protests nationwide – and irking the highest authorities along the way.
Since its late 2018 debut, the rapidly growing coalition of artists that is Rap Against Dictatorship, or RAD, has been on the frontlines of the battle for democracy. With its rebellious music and rousing live performances, the group now has more than half a million followers on YouTube, where the song that put it on the map, Prathet Ku Mee (My Country Has…) has been watched 90 million times.
On and around Aug. 20, Hockhacker was among more than a dozen people rounded up who had been named on a leaked police “wanted list” of 31 activists and artists targeted for arrest.
Hockhacker recently laid out to Coconuts Bangkok what happened, his motivations, what’s next for RAD, and why sidewalks are the real reason he’s interested in politics.
Were you aware that you might be arrested?
Yes. I knew my name was on the wanted list, and one of the rappers who performed with me on July 16 had already been summoned by the police. When I learned that, I expected a letter of summons, but it never came. So, I was sure that they would just arrest me soon without properly informing me first. And that’s what they did.
Since you were arrested and charged, what’s next with the case?
I’m not quite sure yet. I’m free on bail, and I have to go to court in the near future. That’s all I know so far.
How did you feel about it?
I felt sorry for my wife and child. It’s my duty to drop her off at her workplace, and we were already a bit late that morning. When I saw the police, I was like … fuck. My wife had to take leave. I was also worried about who would look after my baby.
Thirty-one people involved with the July 16 protest have been arrested, and released on bail. What do you think the government is doing?
Well, arresting people makes them tired. It also wastes their time. I had to sit at a police station for a half day, then wait at the court for another half day to eventually be allowed to leave on bail. Those who came to support me were also tired. If the government keeps arresting and releasing people, it will desensitize the public. The public will care less about it.
Jacoboi, another RAD founder, is also on the wanted list and could be arrested anytime soon. (Is this a threat to artists by the government?) Sure, the government is threatening us. What they are doing is too harsh. And it’s not only to Rappers and artists, but also to everyone.
What politicized you?
I’ve had some interest in politics since I was young even though I grew up in a privileged family. My father was a teacher at a private school in Bangkok, and my mother was a nurse. We’ve never had to pay for school tuition and medical fees. My mother was always interested in politics; she introduced me to political books, magazines, and various historical stories like the October Massacre. I grew up interested in politics, sport, films and music.
In 2010, I was a communication arts student at Burapha University. I’d heard news about burning and killing in Bangkok. It was the 2010 massacre. At first, I didn’t know much about it. But my journalist professor assigned me to gather more information about it as part of a critical thinking course. So, I started doing that, digging more and more, till the point where I’d say I was “enlightened,” as many people put it now. It was like ‘Boom!’, suddenly I had loads of political documents and information and my life was changed.
Your song Prathet Ku Mee went viral in an instant upon its release in 2018. It’s credited with sparking unprecedented political awareness, especially among the youth. What was the government’s reaction?
Since the release, we’ve faced harassment from the authorities on countless occasions when we played concerts in the provinces. The authorities usually send a squad to raid the venue. They will check IDs, do urine tests, etc., basically trying to delay the concert and disturb us and the audience. There was one time we were forced to go on a few hours late, and we only had the chance to play only one song at 3am.
As part of the current political movement, what are your demands?
I want the same as the protesters want. I agree with the original three demands; stop harassing the people, dissolve the parliament, and rewrite the constitution. And I also support the 10 demands of Thammasat (University) students to reform the monarchy. It must be reformed to fit with the times.
Criticizing the monarchy can lead to a long jail sentence. You have a wife and a son, are you not afraid of ultimately being jailed?
I’m super afraid! But this is an issue society needs to talk about. Criticism is not wrong.
Do you see a future for your child in Thailand?
She will grow up here in Thailand for sure. I’m trying my best to make it better. I see positive changes. It might seem little, but something has changed. I want my child to live in a better environment, to have access to better infrastructure. For simple things, like better footpaths. Now I can’t even walk to the end of the street without having to walk on the road, risking a car accident.
Actually, I want to become a politician, because I want to change the footpaths of my neighborhood. Just like that. (laugh)
Will you join future protests?
Yes, if the conditions are right.
Are you writing a new song?
RAD will release a new song soon, but the content hasn’t been decided yet. We’re discussing on how we can ‘push the boundaries’ with this new song.
Correction: An earlier version of this story referenced a July 16 protest at the Democracy Monument. It was in fact July 18.