Hardening lines I

13 08 2020

A couple of days ago, The Guardian reported the now obvious: “Thai protesters have broken a long-standing taboo, risking lengthy jail terms to criticise the king, after weeks of student-led pro-democracy rallies that have swept across the country.”

In fact, as Thai Lawyers for Human Rights recount,

Since 18 July 2020, youth and various civic groups have demonstrated against dictatorship in Thailand. Free Youth has proposed three demands: the state must stop intimidating the people, a new constitution must be drafted, and parliament must be dissolved. At least 107 public activities and assemblies have been organized in 52 provinces, the latest of which was the #ThammasatCan’tTakeItAnymore demonstration organized by the United Front of Thammasat and Assembly at Lan Payanak on Thammasat University’s Rangsit campus on 10 August 2020.

The students have included those in high school and university. They have been joined by other pro-democracy groups and individuals. The movement is decentralized and multi-headed.

That some protesters have begun to openly criticize “the country’s wealthy and powerful monarchy” has shocked some and provoked others.

The Guardian report believes this has “left the government in a bind. Allowing criticism to pass would undermine the status quo that keeps them in power … while cracking down hard on the students could foment further protests and intensify scrutiny of the monarchy.”

With King Vajiralongkorn having made another flying visit to “his kingdom,” we expect that the regime has been ordered what it must do.

(We assume Vajiralongkorn is on his way back to Germany via Zurich as the taxpayer-funded TG970 left Bangkok at about 2.30 am. If that is his flight, then he spent just 18 hours in country, visiting his hospitalized mother and swearing in new cabinet ministers.)

At Thammasat University on Monday students issued “a 10-point list for reform of the monarchy.”

The regime and the palace have reacted. Rightists have been mobilized, but for the moment remain relatively contained and constrained. But the self-proclaimed protectors of the monarchy have also been vocal in warning and threatening the students.

Army boss Gen Apirat Kongsompong provided the example for rightists by borrowing from rightist social media to describe the protesters as “nation-haters.”

Sunai Phasuk at Human Rights Watch warns that legal measures and intimidation of pro-democracy protesters “is getting more and more aggressive…”.

Claims on social media that the palace has been speaking to owners and executives of media firms, encouraging them to scale back their reporting of the protests and to oppose the students seems reflected in television news and in the press.

For example, the Bangkok Post seems to have become more recognizably rightist. Its report on Monday’s rally made accusations: “Comments made by protesters at the university’s Rangsit Campus in Pathum Thani have potentially violated Section 112 of the Criminal Code, also known as the lese majeste law.”

That amounts to a threat to the students by essentially calling for Article 112 to be used against the students.

They cite university administrators and their threats to students and distancing themselves from the rally: “Police will take legal action against all involved, particularly those who are not Thammasat University students…. For the university’s students who acted improperly during the rally, Thammasat will itself take action based on facts and in line with its regulations.”

For a university that has been the site of so much political activism, its compromised administrators made the astounding statement that the university will now “ban political activities on its premises that risk violating the law.”

The report went on to cite rightists and yellow shirts. Not a single student voice is heard in this “story.”

Unelected senator and rightist Kamnoon Sidhisamarn “told parliament that the demands made by protesters during the rally were unprecedented and their comments were the most violent he’d ever heard.”

Violent? Is he quoted correctly? If he is, then it is a lie and a fabrication that threatens the students and invites violence from the right.

Like many others, Kamnoon raised the specter of 6 October 1976 and its violence. While he moderates his threats by arguing that parliament should have a role in sorting out this conflict, his commentary remains threatening.

(At least royalists are admitting that the massacre at Thammasat in 1976 was by royalists and for the “protection” of the monarchy.)

Another unelected senator, Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana claimed the students had offended “tens of millions of Thai people loyal to the royal institution and the tradition of peaceful co-existence based on the mercy of the royal institution.” That’s pure royalist drivel but also a call fro a response from the right and ultra-royalists.

The Bangkok Post joins the call for parliament to play a role in preventing the “country plung[ing] into a deep divide, with the possibility of violent confrontations … [in] what could become a national crisis.”

It makes no comment on the student’s demands.

Meanwhile, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights has observed that

The exercise of the right to freedom of expression and public assembly has caused at least 76 organizers of the events to face intimidation and surveillance, as well as being told to call off the events, denied permission to hold the events, and the events being intervened by the authorities, etc. At least four legal cases have been initiated against individuals who have exercised their right to freedom of expression, particularly as a result of their criticism of the monarchy. It has led to the arrests of lawyer Anon Nampa, a human rights lawyer, and Phanuphong Jadnok, a university student, and it appears more people will be slapped with legal cases. The issue has ignited widespread and fiery debate online as some view the exercise of such freedom of expression by the demonstrators as illegal acts and “insulting to the monarchy.” They have even threatened that the dehumanizing violence of 6 October 1976 at Thammasat’s Tha Pra Chan campus could repeat itself.

In response to the official and rightist threats, 130 academics issued a statement “to voice their support for student protesters who raised a 10-point manifesto on reforming the monarchy in a rally at Thammasat University on Monday.” They argue that the proposal “does not undermine the Palace.”

The academics supported the 10-point manifesto to reform the monarchy and stated that “the protesters were sincere and expressed their opinions within their right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Section 34 of the Constitution. Moreover, it said, their activities are in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is recognised by Thailand.”

They pointed out that the proposals do not violate any law, arguing that “it’s a straightforward proposal that aims to protect the constitutional monarchy and democracy.”

Implicitly criticizing Thammasat administrators, they declared: “Educational institutions must not avoid or shut the door on freedom of expression. The universities should set an example and teach society to face challenges with patience, which is essential to democracy…”.

Part of the motivation for the academic statement was talk of a military coup, a point also made by the anti-government Free People movement which stated “it was also opposed to all attempts to stage a military coup…”.


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