Pushing and shoving

21 01 2018

Reuters report that “[h]undreds of police in Thailand on Saturday blocked protestors planning to march from Bangkok to Khon Kaen in the northeast of the country in a rare display of public discontent in the junta-ruled country.” While displays of “discontent” have been anything but “rare,” this event comes when some see as a junta under pressure.

According to Prachatai, this march has been planned for a while and there was considerable publicity and discussion on social media. The network organizing it has a series of related activities:

… called “We Walk, A Walk for Friendship” [it] is organised by a group of civil rights activists called the People Go Network. The campaign focuses on four main themes: the right to universal health care, the rights of farmers, community and environmental rights, and the Constitution.

Lertsak Kumkongsak, a community rights activist and one of the event organisers, stated that “[h]e expected about 200 people to join the march.” At the time of the Prachatai report it was said that:

The campaign commences with an event on Friday, 19 January 2018, at Thammasat University, Rangsit Campus. The event comprises a play and a public forum with speakers including Jon Ungpakorn, Director of iLaw, Kannika Kittiwetchakun of the People’s Health Systems Movement, and Lertsak from the Campaign for Public Policy on Mineral Resources. The march sets off from the Rangsit campus on Saturday, 20 January 2018, at 9 am after a reading of testimonies. The first stop is scheduled at Wang Noi District, Ayutthaya. There will be more activities to come along their route to Khon Kaen… Lertsak said the group will inform the police today (Wednesday) of the planned rally so as to comply with the Public Assembly Act….

Complying with the junta’s draconian law seemed to mean walking in groups of four. It was also reported that some lawyers, academics and intellectuals were also involved.

Sangsiri Teemanka, a leader of People’s Network for Welfare, proclaimed: “This walk is a friendship walk. Over the past four years under the coup government we have no rights in terms of speech, action. We want the junta to hear us…”. Anusorn Unno, dean of Thammasat University’s Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology, said that the “group said it wants to cultivate a network of those with opposing views to the government’s policies in relation to food security, natural resources, community rights and civil liberty.”

It was said that when the demonstrators got to Khon Kaen, they planned to visit Jatuphat Boonpattaraksa, a student activist who was jailed on trumped up lese majeste charges last year.

As the gathering got underway, the Reuters report said one leader declared: “We want to tell the junta that you have taken Thailand back a long way. The people in the agriculture ministry are all generals. There are just generals!”

The report states: “The demonstration, which was broadcast live on Facebook, was shared more than 900 times and viewed by more than 32,000 times.” View some of the footage at the People GO network Facebook page. The Bangkok Post also has pictures.

As more than 200 assembled, the call was: “Let’s hold hands! We are friends!”

Some 200 police blocked roads at the university to prevent protestors from leaving.

Police, however, blocked the group from leaving the university on the grounds that were in breech of the public assembly law and also posed a risk to public safety. The Bangkok Post reports that the “demonstrators nevertheless tried to break through the police cordon, prompting a brief tussle.”

The group “met with Pol Maj Gen Surapong Thanomjit, chief of Pathum Thani police, to ask for permission for 10 people from the group to complete the protest march to Khon Kaen, but the proposal was rejected.” Even so, “four people from the network slipped through the defence line [sic.] and walked together on Phahon Yothin Road. Soon after, another two groups — of four people each — also followed them.” They were tailed by “[p]lainclothes police officers on pickup trucks and motorcycles …[photographing] them from time to time.”

The remaining activists planned “to meet those who had managed to begin the march in Pak Chong district of Nakhon Ratchasima next weekend.”

Generally, yellow-shirted intellectuals and academics have been critical of this rally, warning against public protest.



2 responses

23 01 2018
Election “delayed,” junta prosecuting | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] and will bring more attention to critics like the “We Walk, A Walk for Friendship” group that faced off against the junta’s police on the […]

23 01 2018
Election “delayed,” junta prosecuting | Political Prisoners of Thailand

[…] and will bring more attention to critics like the “We Walk, A Walk for Friendship” group that faced off against the junta’s police on the […]