Human Interest

Student who called for Thai monarchic reform arrested

Bangkok, Sep 22 (EFE).- Thai Police arrested activist Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, one of the leaders of a student movement that demands democratic reforms in the country, including that of the monarchy.

The 23-year-old activist, better known by her nickname “Rung,” was returning from class at university when an officer handed her a warrant in the street and took her into custody, Panusaya said in a video posted on her Facebook account.

Lawyer Noraset Nanongtum said in a post that authorities accuse the activist of managing a profile announcing protests against the government and for “encouraging people to participate in vehicle marches against ( Prime Minister) Prayut Chan-ocha”.

The student was commissioned to read in August 2020 a 10-point manifesto for the reform of the monarchy that managed to open the debate on an issue considered taboo until that moment in Thai society.

Panusaya, on probation after spending almost two months in prison accused of lese majeste, was included in the BBC’s list of the 100 most influential women in the world that year.

Despite fewer protests in recent months, which demand reforms to reduce power and influence from Thailand’s monarchy, authorities continue to harass student leaders, the main organizers of the movement.

Due to restrictions imposed to combat the pandemic, organizers have recently called marches with cars and motorcycles through the main avenues of Bangkok.

Another group has summoned hundreds of young people almost daily to try to protest in front of the prime minister’s house, located inside a military barracks, leading to harsh clashes with riot police.

Pro-democracy protests began in July 2020 to demand the prime minister’s resignation, the drafting of a new constitution – the current one was written by the former military junta that ruled from 2014-2019, headed by Prayut himself – and the objective of reducing the military’s power.

The boldest demand is that of monarchic reform, to minimize its political influence and amend the lese majeste law, which carries penalties of between three and 15 years in prison for those who criticize royalty.

At least 137 people, including the main student leaders, have been accused by authorities of violating this law, criticized by the United Nations for being excessively strict, due to their activities during the protests, according to the NGO Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

Some, such as Arnon Nampa and Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, are in prison after their bail was revoked last month, which Panusaya herself still enjoys. EFE


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