ABOVE: Udom Sirisorn breaks down during sentencing that ordered him and his wife to prison for 15 years. Photo: Channel 3 News
A middle-aged couple infamously sentenced to 15 years in prison for plucking a few mushrooms for their dinner table from a protected forest was released recently.
Udom Sirisorn, now 53, and his wife Daeng Sirisorn, 50, were released 17 months after they collapsed in tears during sentencing, images of which stirred a public outcry over an unjust system at the time.
After their release, reporters went to catch up with them only to find out they are doing worse than ever.
“Now I don’t have a job. I used to work in construction, but now I’m not strong enough for the work,” Udom said, explaining that just before being jailed, he was hit by a truck and sustained a brain hemorrhage which did not receive proper care behind bars.
In July, 2010, the couple went into the Dong Gradang Forest in Kalasin province to pick mushrooms and were caught up in a police operation to arrest illegal woodcutters.
They were eventually convicted of illegal logging but received only half of the original 30-year penalty due to their confessions. A lawyer helping the couple cited many irregularities in the proceedings and requested a review by the court.
Meanwhile thousands of netizens upset over the perceived injustice created a social media campaign with photos of their hands with the message “FREE mushroom-collecting grandpa/grandma” written on their palms.
Criticizing a court decision in Thailand is illegal.
At the time, many were optimistic they would soon be released. Instead, they were briefly released on bail before being jailed again.
“I could never pick mushrooms or firewoods in the forest again,” Udom says now. “Ever since what happened, I’m terrified to go anywhere near the forest. Now my sister-in-law’s family helps feed us and take me to the doctor, but we have been struggling.”
Meanwhile, the family has fallen into THB100,000 debt for a loan taken to pay for legal fees and treatment for Udom, who had his wife’s brother-in-law refill his medication every month while he was in jail.
“My wife and I have to take care of them. They’re not burden at all. We cannot simply ignore them,” brother-in-law Kasem Puthorn said. “They grow rice once a year. Other than that, they get a labor job just to get by. We share food. We take care of each other. Sometimes the neighbors give us their food too.”
Despite circumstances and unfair imprisonment, the family is hopeful officials will help them, Bangkok Biz News reported.
“I will take them to the Court of Justice in Kalasin to help them get through this critical situation,” said Boonchuai Noisaena, senator of the Kalasin Provincial Administrative Organization. “I hope we can get some funds for Udom’s treatment.”