On this day in 2010, Irish-born Australian national Conor David Purcell, then 29, took to a makeshift stage in downtown Bangkok, and gave his account of the April 10 assault on anti-government protesters which left 25 dead and 800 injured.
Some men are born to tilt at windmills, others have their windmills thrust upon them. A resident of Thailand for less than five months, and claiming to be a member of Australia’s Special Air Service of seven years’ standing (in truth a former part-time army reservist), Purcell was working as an English teacher and living off the kindness of strangers when the redshirt movement, aligned with ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, began protests the previous month calling for the resignation of the Democrat Party government led by Abhisit Vejjajiva. In the article above, he told the Bangkok Post that he has lost an emergency passport issued by the Australian embassy along with his last 1,400 baht (~AU$50) in the April 10 fracas, during which he was shot with rubber bullets by the Thai military.
“You need to take what he says with a big dose of salt. He’s a big noter who gilds the lily big time,” was the unofficial response of the embassy, apparently already rather well-acquainted with Purcell—sometime before his onstage debut, he had emailed dozens of media organisations and MPs back home demanding an official Australian response to the actions of the Abhisit government.
One would think that advertising your lack of legal documentation in Thailand’s newspaper of record would make one a little circumspect about seeking publicity, let alone attaching oneself to an opposition protest movement during a State of Emergency. Sure enough, Purcell was arrested on May 24 on suspicion of violating emergency decree laws that forbade participation in the protests, carrying a maximum two-year custodial sentence. While his continued detention was considered in court, he berated the judge and insisted he was being unlawfully held, disregarding an embassy representative who repeatedly asked him to be quiet. “Nobody in this country has authority over me,” he said at one point, demonstrating once again the timeless maxim that white privilege is the last refuge of the Australian abroad.
Away from the media he evidently calmed down and accepted the embassy’s counsel, serving six weeks of an eventual three month sentence once he admitted to addressing the redshirt rallies on two occasions. With no-one either back in Australia or at the embassy to spring for the $460 plane fare home, he spent a further two weeks in immigration detention before his flight was paid by Dr Pongsak Phusitsakul, a Thai surgeon who met Purcell during the crackdown and encouraged him to speak to the crowd on April 18. Upon his arrival in Sydney, Purcell told reporters he was beaten by prisoners on the order of guards, and said he would soon travel back to Thailand and continue to “fight for democracy”. I have found nothing to indicate his return, and his Facebook page suggests he is now living in Brisbane.