Conflicts & War

Thai students protest against government and monarchy

By Ramon Abarca

Bangkok, Aug 16 (efe-epa).- Student protests continued on Sunday in Bangkok with a massive demonstration calling for a new constitution and limited power for the monarchy, a taboo subject in Thailand until now.

Around the Democracy Monument in the historic centre of the capital, between 10,000 and 30,000 people gathered on Sunday for a peaceful march that lasted more than six hours and was organized by the Free People movement.

Sunday’s demonstration, probably the largest in Thailand since the 2014 coup d’état, is part of a student movement that began on July 18.

The demonstrators, most of them in their twenties, sang songs and raised three fingers inspired by the film The Hunger Games as a sign of resistance against authoritarianism.

“We are here to demand democracy and denounce the lack of freedom of expression,” said a 23-year-old graduate, who adds that “the government and the monarchy spend our money and do nothing for us.”

The young woman acknowledges that although they do not expect to bring about a great deal of change soon, instead these protests will serve to activate society.

The students, mobilized by social networks, defy threats from the government, the military and the arrests of several of their organizers while complaining that the local media ignore them, self-censor or attack them.

The police have arrested three student leaders since last week and released them on bail in addition to issuing arrest warrants for around 30 activists.

They are all accused of violating the state of emergency imposed by the government to combat the pandemic as well as the crime of sedition, which could lead to up to seven years in prison.

“I am not afraid of being arrested, even though I was one of the 31 people named in the arrest warrant, but what worries me is that if we are all arrested, the political movements in Thailand will not make any progress,” said Tattep “Ford” Ruangprapaikitseree, general secretary of Free People.

This protest is especially directed against the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a general who took power in a coup in 2014, reformed the constitution and has remained in power after winning a disputed election last year.

Discontent with the government soared after the outlawing last February of the second opposition party, Anakot Mai (New Future), a new pro-democracy formation popular with young voters.

The group which organised the demonstration on Sunday made three demands: a new constitution, for the authorities to stop harassing activists who oppose the government, and for the Parliament to be dissolved.

Last Monday at another demonstration at Thammasat University, the organisers expressed again the need to limit the powers of the monarchy, a real challenge in a country where any criticism of the crown is considered a crime.

Public criticism of the monarchy is extremely rare in Thailand, due to the royal family’s influence and the Lèse-majesté law, one of the strictest in the world, which punishes insults towards the royal family with up to 15 years in prison.

The government’s nervousness about this unexpected climate of criticism of the monarchy is evident.

The prime minister himself admitted he was worried and his executive has threatened platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube with legal action if they do not remove thousands of publications that they consider illegal and which in some cases include insults towards the monarchy.

The king’s absence during the coronavirus crisis has been one of the main reasons for the criticism, as he lives most of the time in Germany.

The current monarch inherited the throne after the death of King Bhumibol in 2016, but has not inherited the widespread popularity of his father, who reigned for seven decades.

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