I discovered this only by chance, when I tried to access my article online. It was no longer there. I confronted the editors about it, and Pattnapong told me it must be a technical glitch. I didn’t believe him, and had a colleague contact Ronnachai, who admitted that a deal had been made. I asked for an explanation, which Pattnapong provided in a confrontation-dodging, typed letter he sent by courier, third floor to fourth floor. He wrote that Supachai had threatened to file separate charges for the online version of the story, and so really he was saving the company from more trouble. He assured me the company was standing by the story, and promised that Supachai would drop the case against me as soon as I testified in court. Given the course of events and the fact that Supachai would not allow me to merely testify as a witness, rather than a defendant, I found this information hard to trust. I also learned that Ronnachai had been spreading preposterous lies about me, alleging to others that I had placed phone calls from the Post newsroom to the Ministry of Science and Technology, which oversees Supachai’s agency, demanding he be fired.
I wondered if all this had something to do with Ronnachai and Pattnapong trying to protect themselves. Both, at least theoretically, had approved the story before it was published. Or it may have been politics. Supachai worked under the ruling Democrat government, and was supported by a number of its big financial backers. The Post was run by the cousin of the prime minister, and owned by one of the major financial backers of the Democrat party. Or maybe it was just a matter of money exchanged, as is often the case in Thailand. Or complications created by gaps in culture and age; I sometimes got the sense that Ronnachai and Pattnapong didn’t know what to make of me, whether because of my foreignness or youth or both, and didn’t completely trust my version of events. Clearly, I had trust issues with them, too.
Whatever their reasons, I was left particularly vulnerable, since my legal status depended on my work permit, which the Post controlled. Had I been fired, theoretically I could have been sent to the Immigration Detention Center, a sad, worse-than-prison sort of place where they hold destitute foreigners and asylum seekers, sometimes for years.
So I had to tread carefully. I went to see the Post’s publisher, Pichai, a Thai who had been educated in Australia and talked a big game on press freedom when he was on television or panels. Pichai has a charming, Bill Clintonish air and a well coiffed head of white hair. He’d sit in his chair—casual, fat-cattish—swiveling and chain smoking. I appreciated his time, but he lorded over the conversation, by turns faux-concerned and condescending, chuckling off my fears about the situation. He told me Ronnachai was the best, his longtime lawyer, and that he personally had faced—and won—numerous defamation cases. He was totally deaf to what I actually wanted to talk about, which was the fact that I felt I was being thrown under the bus, that my lawyer appeared to be actively working against my interests, and that I faced being stuck in Thailand for an indefinite period of years.
The lawyer issue was especially sensitive—that face-saving thing again—as hiring a new one would have been a slight against Ronnachai. I knew this and was careful to frame my request accordingly, saying that for my parents’ peace of mind I needed an attorney who spoke fluent English. Even so, when I broached the subject with Pichai, he got serious for a moment. “Lawyers fight, Erika,” he said, meaning that if I brought in another lawyer he or she would clash with Ronnachai. He went on expressing his disapproval at the idea, and speaking as if I had no right to make that decision.