Prachatai English

Red Rim Soldiers: the birth of the new network monarchy

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-11-27 15:57
Submitted on Fri, 27 Nov 2020 - 03:57 PMSupalak Ganjanakhundee

The appointment of Air Chief Marshal Airbull Suttiwan as the new Royal Thai Air Force Commander-in-Chief may not be what was expected by the mass media that reports on the military or by general observers, because the ‘Bull of the Sky’ (named ‘Airbull’ because he was born during a joint training programme of the Thai and US air forces in 1961 with the codename ‘Airbull’) is not one of the 5 flying tigers. He did not rise up through the strategic ranks nor was he a fighter jet pilot like previous air force commanders-in-chief. He was a C-130 transport pilot, had been the 601st air squadron commander in the Don Mueang 6th Wing, and had been the military attaché (Air Force) in Singapore. The position he held before taking the reins of the air force was an Air Force Special Expert, which everyone knows is a position for parking high ranking officers who the military does not want to do much.

People who know Airbull all agree that he is someone with a very nice personality – many were impressed during the time he was assigned to Singapore, but that is not a principle quality of people who are military leaders. Again Airbull did not have any outstanding achievements. What allowed this dark horse to attain such an important position in the RTAF, was that he was once responsible for a “royal flight”, and had a close relation with King Rama X, who has been a pilot, as well as another Air Force man, Air Chief Marshal Satitpong Sukvimol, Lord Chamberlain, who was the King’s Royal Secretary. The royally decreed short crewcut of the new RTAF Commander-in-Chief should be good evidence that a close relationship and the expression of unbridled loyalty to superiors are the most important factors in selecting military leaders at present.

The monarchy and the military have always been inseparable. Most Thai constitutions, from the very first that was promulgated in December 1932 after the change in the form of government, have stated “the King holds the position of Head of the Royal Thai Armed Forces”. Some versions, such as Article 11 in the 1949 constitution in the reign of King Rama IX, clearly decrees that “the King holds the position of Head of the Royal Thai Armed Forces and is the highest commander of all soldiers”. Article 8 of the 2017 constitution, which was written during King Rama X’s reign, there is only the short statement that “the King holds the position of Head of the Royal Thai Armed Forces”. The Royal Thai Armed Forces themselves consider their most important duty to be the protection of the monarchy and safeguarding the king, queen and royal family members. In the present warless era, it can be said that the military has only this mission as its highest priority. The Armed Forces will do anything to protect the king, from pulling a coup d’état to threatening, arresting, detaining and even executing people who are believed a threat to the monarchy.

The modern Thai Armed Forces were established by King Rama V. Even when Thailand changed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy, the relations between the king and the military did not change according to the constitution at all. The word “Head of the Royal Thai Armed Forces” in the constitution, may superficially just be a symbol of their relation according to tradition. But the truth is that both the king and the military have clearly shown us, ever since Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat was Prime Minister, that the king is the head of the Royal Thai Armed Forces who holds the authority to control the military, so it is not strange that the king interferes in the appointment of military officers, directly or indirectly. The military also often uses the king as an excuse to seize political power. Recent research discovered that the king and the military have worked together to interfere with, control and command politics all along. The military and coups d’état are political tools of the king rather than something that protects the country and its territorial integrity [1].

King Rama X inherited this relationship with the military from King Rama IX and has expanded the power and authority of the king over the military, moving closer and closer to an absolute monarchy. This article will explain the relationship between the monarchy and the armed forces in the modern reign in 2 parts: 1) royal government agencies which are directly under royal command; and 2) relations with the armed forces which the King has created through recently developed networks.

The King’s personal army

Royal government agencies under King Rama X, under a law enacted by the National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO) government in April 2017, have been made into government agencies with special characteristics, exempting them from the laws governing state administration regulations and making them no longer part of the government under any other law. The administration of these royal agencies is to be “at the royal pleasure”. There are 3 main agencies:

(1) The Office of His Majesty’s Privy Council, which used to have a large role during King Rama IX’s reign when General Prem Tinsulanonda, President of the Privy Council, had the important duty of managing the network monarchy. But in King Rama X’s reign, the importance of the Privy Council has been considerably lessened. It is to be noted that the personal relationship between Gen Prem, the late former Privy Council President, and the King was not very good, which resulted in a reduction of the role of the current President, General Surayud Chulanont, beloved student and successor to Prem. King Rama X assigned to the Privy Council public relations work such as giving out goods to help the people and looking after royal projects which were launched during the last reign, rather than as an agency which provides advice on state administration to the king as it had in the past. It can be said that the old network monarchy’s role has decreased greatly, even though it has not completely disappeared. Also, even though Surayud once held the position of Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Prime Minister, he does not hold as much authority in the military as Prem did and so is not able to manage efficiently the network monarchy for King Rama X, especially in the military.

(2) The Bureau of the Royal Household whose work covers general royal affairs, the royal secretariat, royal household and ceremonial administration, looking after the king’s property and any other duties “at the royal pleasure”. The Lord Chamberlain (Satitpong Sukvimol) was by his royal benevolence appointed at the royal pleasure as the person in charge and is responsible for running the agency.

(3) The Royal Security Command is an important agency directly related to military affairs. It is responsible for the planning, facilitation and coordination, command, control, oversight and administration in affairs concerning the protection and glorification of the king, queen, heir-apparent, royal family members and any other persons as assigned by the king, as well as work related to royal ceremonies as assigned and keeping peace and order within palace grounds, including acting according to the laws related to safeguarding the king, queen, heir-apparent, regent, members of the royal family, royal representatives and royal visitors.

Article 8 of the 2017 Royal Decree Organising Governmental Affairs and Personnel Administration for Royal Service states that “the Royal Security Command shall adopt a system of command that is directly subject to the Monarch.”

Article 9 states that under the Royal Security Command shall be the Office of the Commander, Office of the Aide-de-Camp, Office of the Royal Duty Officers, Royal Thai Aide-De-Camp Department, The King's Close Bodyguard Command, and Office of the Royal Police Guards as its main components.

In reality, King Rama X has been the commander of the Royal Security Command since he was Crown Prince and has had a number of soldiers under his command under the 904 code, but the command line was rather confusing because the Command was originally part of the Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters before being transferred to being under the direct command of the Ministry of Defence in November 2013, when Yingluck Shinawatra was Prime Minister and also Minister of Defence. In reality, no one in Thailand can imagine that the Crown Prince, as the commander of a military unit, would listen to the orders of a commoner Minister or even Prime Minister.

That is why the restructuring of the royal government agencies in the reign of King Rama X is to make royal authority, which was the norm in the absolute monarchy, legally acceptable under a constitutional government. The enactment of a royal decree in September 2019 to transfer the personnel and budget of the 1st and 11th Infantry Regiments to become part of the Royal Security Command is nothing more than an expansion of His Majesty’s royal troops. Military experts estimate that the 2 regiments with 6 infantry battalions should total to no less than 5,000 troops. At present, the sites of these military camps have already become royal grounds.

In politics, there are many discussions. Does the King, already the Head of the Royal Thai Armed Forces under the constitution, need to have his own troops?

The side that agrees provides 2 reasons:

First According to tradition, the king as Head of the Royal Thai Armed Forces can transfer personnel anywhere at his royal pleasure. Parliament, as the representative of the people, can only enact laws which support such actions.

Second Considering the reality of politics, the 2 regiments are situated in Bangkok and served as the main force in many coups d’état, especially in 2006 and 2014. If they are under direct command of the King, Thailand can be rid of coups because it is believed that there would be no soldier brave enough to betray the King.

The side that disagrees thinks that the latter argument carries no weight and is based on very shaky speculation when one considers the fact that in Thailand’s coup history a coup will only be successful after approval from the palace, and importantly, that no modern state allows a state monarch to have personal troops like this. The Head of State, even in the case of the US President who has the duty of Commander-in-Chief of the national military, is not allowed to have their own personal troops to safeguard themselves and their family.

Having personal troops not only creates a state within a state, but may also create alienation in the military, because the Thai Armed Forces believe that their duty is to safeguard and protect the monarchy. Why would the king need a personal military? Naming them ‘the King's Close Bodyguard’ directly means a force which protects His Majesty that receives special favour. Alienation no doubt will occur in units not part of the King's Close Bodyguard Command who may feel that they are not being favoured, and may be abandoned, neglected or left to starve. This kind of situation happened before in the reign of King Rama VI who established the Wild Tiger Corps as his personal troops, providing them with more support compared to other military units, which eventually became one of the reasons for the coup d’état.

Network Monarchy

King Rama X, when he was Crown Prince, was a soldier and pilot. He studied and trained in military affairs and gained some war experience in 1976 during the era when the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) was waging a revolutionary war. The clash in Dan Sai District, Loei Province, in October of that year was highlighted in 2019 at his coronation, in order to build an image for King Rama X as a warrior king. Even though at this time there is no longer any war, General Apirat Kongsompong, the then Commander-in-Chief of the Army, mentioned this incident again and again, stressing to the military that the King is a military leader who is brave and capable, a professional soldier with battle experience. No military personnel should doubt this, in the way that senior soldiers in the Siamese military once had doubts about the military capabilities of King Rama VI, so that the soldiers will not mutiny. This is for the stability of the monarchy, because, more than anything, a military that is disloyal is the greatest threat to the throne.

King Rama X is not only a soldier with his own personal troops, but he has also given all the people around him – from the queen, his son, his daughter(s), his close attendants, to even his pet dog –military ranks and positions. For example, Queen Suthida, a former flight attendant, had to go through many military and pilot training courses. She has the military rank of Special General and held the position of Deputy Commander of the Royal Security Command before becoming Queen. Royal Noble Consort Sineenat graduated and worked as a nurse at Phramongkutklao Hospital and already had a military rank, but when she served His Majesty as a close attendant, she had to undergo military training, quickly getting promoted to the rank of general. Her position before being appointed Royal Noble Consort was Commander of the Royal Palace Battalion, Palace Guard Infantry Regiment, King's Close Bodyguard Command, Royal Security Command. The two have also led military parades in royal ceremonies, such as the Royal Cremation of King Rama IX and the Coronation of King Rama X as was witnessed by the public. Those who are government officials in the palace and have been given the last name Vajiralongkorn, Sirivajirabhakdi, Yuvarajabariraksa or Bariraksabhuminthara, all have military ranks.

Appointing the Queen and close attendants as royal guards may seem laughable in a modern military, but this happened in the Royal Thai Armed Forces in the 21st century and may create doubts within the military. However, King Rama X has ways to strengthen his relations with the military by building a new network and customs within the military, to be sure that His Majesty will receive the same loyalty that the former monarch received.

When recently enthroned, His Majesty selected 15 senior military officers led by Apirat Kongsompong, then the Assistant Commander-in-Chief of the Army, to go through a special training course at Thawi Watthana Palace (known to not be a palace where the king lives) and established a special unit; the Royal Guard Ratchawallop 904 Task Force (Commando Unit 904). No outsider knows clearly what authority or mission this special unit has, how many members it has, what are its rules and what work the unit covers.

The mass media that regularly reports on military affairs can only provide incomplete information on this. Sometimes, such as in the Nakhon Ratchasima mass shooting in February 2020, a part of the media misunderstood that Commando Unit 904 is the same unit as the Ratchawallop Police Division, King's Guard 904. This police unit is part of the Central Investigation Bureau and is not under the Bureau of the Royal Household at all. Later on, to avoid confusion, the police unit’s name was changed to Special Operations Division in July 2020 and was assigned additional missions related to terrorism that may occur and affect the safety of the royal family within palace grounds.

But the 904 special unit mentioned here refers to elite soldiers (please see table below) who were selected and trained by King Rama X for 3 months, not only to test their military skills but also to test their loyalty and knowledge and understanding of royal traditions applied by King Rama X, such as Rajasawasdi. These military officers may not have the same character as Apirat, but when in uniform, they all wear white t-shirts with red rims inside, eventually being called the ‘red rim’ soldiers. There is also a ‘caste’ sign attached to their uniforms, indicating that they are part of the special unit. Some people, such as Gen Apirat and Gen Narongpan Jitkaewthae, the present Commander-in-Chief of the Army, favour attaching a brooch with the image of Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti on their chests as well.

No one can tell what the selection criteria is. Within mass media circles, it is known only that everyone needs to be absolutely perfect in terms of dress and discipline, as decreed by King Rama X, such as the very short crew cut. But there are some shared qualities. For example, most 904 members of this generation are part of the ‘Wongthewan’ group, that is, they started their military career in the 1st Infantry Division and are the ‘sons of the influential’ that studied in the military academy in years close to Apirat, Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School years 20-22. One group of analysts believe that Apirat’s being selected as the leader was partly because of his family background, since he is the son of Gen Sunthorn Kongsompong, former Chief of Defence Forces, who led the coup in 1991 to overthrow Gen Chatichai Choonhavan’s government. But the more important matter is that both Sunthorn and Apirat are helicopter pilots and had chances to be close to King Rama X ever since their helicopter training. Some military officers in this group also share another feature: their fathers were part of the 1991 coup, such as Maj Gen Songwit Noonphakdi, son of Issarapong Noonphakdi. Interestingly, there is no one selected from the then-famous Kraprayoon family.

Choosing Apirat as the commander of the 904 special unit in 2017 also changed the power balance within the army. That is, it stopped the expansion of influence of military officers from the Burapha Phayak group under the patronage of Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and his group, which has Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha and Gen Anupong Paochinda as important members, because even though Prayut and Prawit should be powerful in the government at that time in the positions of Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, neither raised any opposition at all when Gen Chalermchai Sittisart, Commander-in-Chief of the Army from a special forces background, who worked for Prem-Surayud and was earlier sent to cut their circles of power, nominated Apirat as Commander-in-Chief of the Army. It is known that Apirat was the one who helped Chalermchai organise the list of transfers and appointments in the year he rose to power [2]. In that year, soldiers in the Wongthewan group, including Narongpan and many others who were well-known as red rim soldiers, such as Maj Gen Songwit and Lt Gen Charoenchai Hinthao, took over important positions in the army. Through the 2 years when Apirat was in the position of Commander-in-Chief of the Army, he strengthened his authority by appointing soldiers known for their loyalty to King Rama X under his power and laid down a network of red rim soldiers so that they could succeed him.

Gen Narongpan Jitkaewthae, known for being an important royalist, became Commander-in-Chief of the Army and commander of the Royal Guard Ratchawallop 904 Task Force in place of Apirat who went to serve King Rama X as Deputy Lord Chamberlain. Gen Thammanoon Withee became the Assistant Commander-in-Chief of the Army, Lt Gen Charoenchai Hinthao became the Commander of the 1st Army Area, Gen Chaloemphon Sisawat became the Chief of Defence Forces, and Maj Gen Songwit Noonphakdi, who may look a little disappointed since he was not appointed as the Commander of the 1st Army Area, still holds the position of Chief of Staff of the Army, which also holds considerable importance.

Other choices, such as Gen Nattapon Nakpanich, Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Army, known as the person that both Prayut and Prawit trust the most, were swept aside. This was because he is not a red rim soldier but he received the consolation of getting to sit in the position of Secretary-General of the National Security Council, which works in strategy and policy, slipping out of the military command line. In this aspect, it can be said that Prayut and Prawit’s power network within the army is shrinking while officers that control important units are all officers from the palace.

Although Apirat claims that he worked very hard to develop the army while in office, he had not done anything at all to develop the army into a military force with better capability in protecting the country, except for buying a number of armoured personnel carriers from the US. It is also uncertain just how many times they will be used in national security affairs in their entire working life.

But his real achievement is the effort to foster new military values designed in the reign of King Rama X, such as producing model soldiers according to the 2019 royal curriculum. This new kind of soldier of King Rama X must strengthen their physical fitness, military character, nutrition, psychology, motivation, etc. Model soldiers according to this royal curriculum will be an upgrade of the training system standards and the general way of looking after new army soldiers.

For practical training, there are posture command drills such as standing to attention, saluting, kneeling salutes, together with the chest-pump face-flick salute which is His Majesty’s new approach, hat picking up, paying homage and hat wearing stances. In addition, there are drills with arms, such as presenting arms together with the chest-pump face-flick salute, rifle raising, rifle inspection, removing bayonets, presenting rifles for inspection, including the demonstration of disassembling and assembling the M16A1 rifle, open-eyed and blindfolded. These are all being trained more rigorously. These drills are widely own, the phrase ‘chest pump, hmph’ or ‘chest lift’ originating from when King Rama X was still the Crown Prince; His Highness had thought that many soldiers were not stately or dignified, standing hunched, chest not expanded and chin lifted, and so he designed a new stance lifting the chest, pulling back the chin, and flicking the face towards the person being respected. None of these increases the army’s capability to protect the country as much as they emphasize the power and influence of the King over the military.

One thing Apirat did continuously in his term was to foster royalism in the military, starting from the opening of the Boworadet and Srisitthisongkhram rooms within the Royal Thai Army Ordnance Corps Museum building in October 2019 to honour former soldiers on the royalist side. Prince Boworadet, former Minister of Defence, one of King Rama VII’s relatives and trusted soldiers, and Phraya Srisitthisongkhram (Din Tharab) had significant roles in the 1933 rebellion to overthrow the Phraya Phahonphonphayuhasena government and restore the absolute monarchy. It is most probably not a coincidence that the honouring of royalist soldiers happened at the same time that memorials related to the history of soldiers who were important members of the People’s Party that suppressed the Boworadet rebellion were erased. Monuments to Phraya Phahon and Field Marshal Plaek were moved from a military camp in Lopburi between late 2019 and early 2020 and the names of two military camps changed. Phahonyothin Camp, which was named after Phraya Phahon, was renamed Bhumibol Camp and Phibunsongkhram Camp was changed to Sirikit Camp. These two events happened after the disappearance of the Constitution Defence Monument, also known as the (Boworadet) Rebellion Suppression Monument, at Lak Si intersection in late December 2018. The names of these locations are ideologically important because not only were they the leaders of the Khana Ratsadon, but Field Marshal Plaek was also the creator of the ‘nationalism above royalism’ idea, before King Rama IX cooperated with Field Marshal Sarit to eliminate it and replace it with royal nationalism from 1957 onwards.

In general, the red rim soldier network seems to be full of soldiers from the army and also some air force officers, but they are already transferred directly to the palace. It could be because the navy has not been much of a threat to the monarchy for a long time, since the Manhattan Rebellion and the defeat of the People’s Party in Pridi Banomyong’s group. The Air Force is small in size, and not only can it be no threat, but it is close to King Rama X who was once a fighter pilot. In many cases, His Majesty also served as a flight trainer for the Air Force. It is possible that he can already directly command the RTAF without needing to go through any formal mechanism. Airbull’s rise to power is a good evidence of this.

All that has been said are only certain starting points of the establishment of the network monarchy by King Rama X. Other than his network within the military, which is one starting point, there are also networks in the civilian sector and very importantly, within the mass media, which work together with the royal palace and military, such as the Royal Volunteer Project founded in 2017. It had an initial number of registrations (at the royal cremation of King Rama IX and the Un Ai Rak project) of 4 million, but there is no study yet on this which is systematic enough. Additionally, it may be too early to say how the network monarchy which started in the military will work or how strong and efficient it will be. Does mass psychology or information operations, including the use of military force and established mass groups, show political power within the network or not? And most importantly, how will these operations affect politics in the current era? Not counting what Apirat’s future role will be, currently outside of the military and working within the royal palace, will he do the same or similar work to what Prem did during the reign of King Rama IX? We still cannot tell right now.

The important matter is this newly established network may not need to replace the former network that had a strong and very complex existence in the reign of King Rama IX. The Privy Council not having much of an outstanding role in the current reign does not mean they are not doing anything at all. They may have been doing liaison work or they could be in conflict. When considering that these networks work by relying quite heavily on individual abilities, not counting the call for monarchy reformation, these networks may express different opinions and stances that are all over the place. For example, someone who used to be in the old network monarchy may want to see a constitution indicating that the monarchy has the same role and position that King Rama IX had, while the new network sees that the semi-absolute monarchy of the present is already satisfactory. All of this needs to be studied and scrutinised in detail.

Table of Red Rim Soldiers’ Progress (2017-2020)

 

Name

2017

2018

2019

2020

Apirat Kongsompong

Assistant Commander-in-Chief of the Army

Commander-in-Chief of the Army

Commander-in-Chief of the Army

Deputy Lord Chamberlain

Narongpan Jitkaewthae

Deputy Commander of the 1st Army Area

Commander of the 1st Army Area

Assistant Commander-in-Chief of the Army

Commander-in-Chief of the Army

Thammanoon Withee

Deputy Commander of the 1st Army Area

Commander of the 1st Army Corps

Commander of the 1st Army Area

Assistant Commander-in-Chief of the Army

Chaloemphon Sisawat

Director of Operations

  • Deputy Chief of Staff

  • Army Expert

Chief of Joint Staff

 

Chief of Defence Forces

Charoenchai Hinthao

Commander of the 2nd Infantry Division

Deputy Commander of the 1st Army Area

Commander of the 1st Amy Corps

Commander of the 1st Army Area

Songwit Noonphakdi

Deputy Commander of the 1st Infantry Division

Commander of the 1st Infantry Division

Deputy Commander of the 1st Army Area

Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army

Suksan Nongbualang

Commander of the 2nd Infantry Division

Deputy Commander of the 1st Army Area

Deputy Commander of the 1st Army Area

Commander of the 1st Amy Corps

Suwit Ketsri

Deputy Commander of the 2nd Calvary Division

Commander of the 2nd Calvary Division

Deputy Commander of the 1st Army Area

Deputy Commandant, Joint Staff College, National Defence Studies Institute

Tharaphong Malakham

Deputy Commander of the 11th Military Circle

Commander of the 11th Military Circle

Commander of the 2nd Infantry Division

Deputy Commander of the 1st Army Area

Ekkarat Changkaew

Chief of Staff of the 1st Army Corps

Deputy Superintendent, Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy

Deputy Superintendent, Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy

Director of the Army Training Command Department

Piyaphong Klinphan

Commander of the 11th Military Circle

Commander of the 2nd Infantry Division

Deputy Superintendent, Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy

Deputy Superintendent, Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy

Songpol Sadsaongern

 

Deputy Commander of the 1st Infantry Division

Deputy Commander of the 1st Infantry Division

Commander of the 1st Infantry Division

Commander of the 1st Infantry Division

Kantaphot Setsatharasami

Deputy Commander of the 2nd Calvary Division

Deputy Commander of the 2nd Calvary Division

Commander of the 2nd Calvary Division

Deputy Commander of the 1st Army Area

Thawatchai Tangphithakkun

Commander of the 31st Infantry Regiment

Deputy Commander of the 2nd Infantry Division

Commander of the 11th Military Circle

Commander of the 11th Military Circle

Phumchai Chaiphan

 

Deputy Commander of the RTAF Security Force Command

Commander of the RTAF Security Force Command

Attached to the Office of the Commander of the King's Close Bodyguard

Head of the Office of the Commander of the King's Close Bodyguard, the King's Close Bodyguard Command

 

[1] For more on the role of the King and military in politics, please see:

Nattapoll Chaiching, “The Monarchy and the Royalist Movement in Modern Thai Politics, 1932-1957”, in Søren Ivarsson and Lotte Isager, eds., Saying the Unsayable: Monarchy and Democracy in Thailand (Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2010), pp.147-178. Nattapoll Chaiching demonstrates the role of King Rama IX in supporting the coup by Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat in 1957.

Duncan McCargo, “Network Monarchy and Legitimacy Crisis in Thailand”, Pacific Review 4 (2005), pp.499-519. McCargo shows that the operations of the network monarchy in the age of Gen Prem Tinsulanonda whose authority is above politics.

Thongchai Winichakul, “Thailand’s Royal Democracy in Crisis”, in Michael J Montesano, Terence Chong and Mark Heng, eds., After the Coup: The National Council for Peace and Order Era and the Future of Thailand (Singapore: ISEAS Publishing, 2019),  pp. 282-307. The Armed Forces are shown to be an important mechanism supporting the king’s authority over elected governments and the government system.

[2] “Analysis: Big Tu, Big Pom, shaking up the military: special barrier-breaking version. Keeping an eye on Big Daeng in the midst of the red hat situation.” Matichon Weekly, 27 July – 2 August 2018 (https://www.matichonweekly.com/column/article_121055)

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Categories: Prachatai English

The king’s personal monopoly over royal assets criticized in the protest

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-11-27 11:40
Submitted on Fri, 27 Nov 2020 - 11:40 AMPrachatai

A small crowd already began gathering at the SCB headquarters by 13.50 of 25 November, while SCB had announced earlier in the morning that its headquarters would be closed for the day.

The crowd control police stationed at the SCB HQs.

The protest was originally planned to take place at the Crown Property Bureau (CPB). The student activist group Free Youth announced that the protest would start at the Democracy Monument, before marching to the CPB. The organizers later changed the venue to the SCB headquarters due to the authorities’ heavy deployment of security measures.

At 14.50, police officers were stationed around the SCB Park Plaza building behind metal railings, but there are no other barriers. The protesters then accumulated in numbers until by dusk they occupied the street.

The yellow rubber duck seems to have become an icon of the pro-democracy protests, after inflatable ducks were used as makeshift shields against water cannon blasts during the crackdown on the 17 November protest at Parliament.

A protester had made coupons with the image of the rubber duck, worth 10 baht, which could be exchanged at 10 street food vendors (nicknamed "CIA" by protesters) who are participating in the activity.

A protester with the duck coupon.

The protesters dispersed at 21.17. The next protest is scheduled for 27 November at a place and time to be announced later.

At 22.13, after the protest had largely dispersed, a small explosive-like sound was heard, then followed by 4 sounds like gunshots. As of 26 November, there were reports that one person was shot in the stomach. He was taken to hospital and is out of danger. Protest guards caught 2 people suspected of being the perpetrators but the situation is still unclear.

Protest against monopolizing crown assets

Founded by Prince Mahisara Rajaharudaya, a half-brother of King Chulalongkorn, and established by Royal Charter in 1907, SCB is Thailand’s first commercial bank. According to the SCB website, King Vajiralongkorn is the largest single shareholder, holding 23.53% of SCB’s shares.

The stocks were transferred in 2018 from the CPB, the organization that controlled royal assets on behalf of the monarchy, to His Majesty’s personal property along with many other assets, due to the changes enacted in the Crown Property Act. This issue has been raised by speakers in this protest.

The status of CPB is an enigma and it has long been questioned whether its assets belong to the country, especially when Forbes calculated the assets of King Rama IX by including those of the CPB. The CPB in the past explained that the property of the monarch is the property of the state and of the country, managed by the government through the Minister of Finance as the chair of the governing board.

This explanation became invalid in 2017, when the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly  passed the 2017 Crown Property Act and the next year passed the 2018 Crown Property Act to replace the former version. [The 2 laws have slightly different names in Thai but the same name in the official English translation].

The reason for passing a new law was to make the regulations for the administration of crown property more suitable by presenting the management of crown property to be at the royal pleasure as a royal prerogative.

The essential points of the 2018 Crown Property Act are:

1.  The literal translation of the name of the Act in Thai is “Act on the Organization of the Property of the Monarch”.  The 2017 Act was “Act on the Organization of Property on behalf of the Monarch”.  There is no longer any language indicating that the monarch does not directly own the property.

2.  There is no division between the personal property of His Majesty and property held for the monarch.  Both become the property of the monarch.

3.  Crown property is taxable according to the law.

4.  The Crown Property Committee is appointed at the royal pleasure.

Parit Chiwarak in a duck outfit.

Parit Chiwarak, a student activist who has addressed the monarchy reform issue, and who had just been summoned by the police to hear a lèse majesté charge, appeared on the stage in a yellow duck outfit. He said that it is in the national interest to demand the King’s personal assets to be restored as public crown assets.

Parit questioned the transfer of public assets into the King’s personal assets, which has made him the main stakeholder in some of the country's biggest companies like SCB and Siam Cement Group (SCG), while the people at the bottom still struggle with poverty and inequality in daily life. These resources should be allocated to improve the quality of life of the people.

One of the demands made in the 10-point manifesto declared by the student activist group United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration on 10 August calls for the 2018 Crown Property Act to be revoked and for there to be a clear division between the assets of the king under the control of the Ministry of Finance and his personal assets.

Anon Nampa, a human rights lawyer, a prominent monarchy reform speaker and a man on the Section 112 charge list along with Parit, appeared at the stage in the SCB protest in a yellow chicken (perhaps meant to be a duck) outfit.

Anon Nampa, also in a duck outfit.

He said the past 4 months have been the greatest beginning in the history of Thailand when people voiced their concerns that monarchy is having problems. Since King Rama X took the throne, instead of behaving under the constitution, he seems to behave in another way.

By the transfer of assets to the King, the coup led by Gen Prayut betrayed the country and the People’s Party who staged the democratic revolution and separated public assets from royal assets.

He said that the Crown Property Act is problematic due to the status of royal assets in the past. For example, why would the assets that used to belong to royal families not be distributed among its members. Moreover, if the King decided to transfer the Grand Palace to the Queen, which the law allows him to do, the Queen could also transfer the palace to her mother.

Also, if the King, who holds all the crown assets personally, does not bequeath the assets to anyone, then on his death, the assets will be divided among his spouses and offspring according to civil law. That would be a major controversy, involving what used to be regarded as the national treasure. Those are reasons for the protest, because the people are stakeholders in this issue.

“We are speaking out because want future kings to have palaces to stay in. If the king happens to make a will transferring assets to someone else, we would have nothing left as public [assets]. And if he transfers everything, where would the new king stay?” asked Anon.

“We do not only protest and go home. We have a legal exit. We are going to collectively submit a new law, bringing all of the assets that His Majesty has taken back to Parliament. This issue can be done without any blood being shed.

“We will draft the law making a clear separation. Oversight will be by the government that we elect to oversee the country. We will hand the assets from the throne over to the government to oversee. This is only one from ten demands and we have many more places that we wish to go, and the containers cannot contain us.”, said Anon

Tough state defence against protesters

At 22.26 on 24 November, Free Youth announced a change of location to the Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) headquarters on Ratchadaphisek Road in order to avoid clashing with a pro-establishment rally, saying that there will be a team at the Democracy Monument to re-direct protesters to the right location.

Khaosod English reported that the authorities blocked a number of streets and intersections around the Crown Property Bureau with stacks of shipping containers and razor wire ahead of the protest, and that there were plainclothes officers stationed in the area, “dressed suspiciously like pro-democracy protesters” with hard hats and backpacks. 

There were also reports of Long-Range Acoustic Devices (LRAD) in the area, as well as of officers rehearsing crowd control drills.

The logistics company Maersk, whose containers were seen among those used to block the streets, said on their official Facebook page that the containers are not owned by the company but were sold to a third party without Maersk knowing the intended use.

iLaw also reported at around 23.00 last night that officers were seen installing CCTV cameras in front of the SCB headquarters.

Later on 25 November, Deputy Bangkok Police Commander Maj Gen Piya Tawichai apologized to the public for blocking roads in a wide area. He said the measure was in response to the protesters. (Source: Bangkokbiznews)

NewsCrown Property ActMonarchy reformStudent protest 2020monarchyKing VajiralongkornKing Rama XSource: https://prachatai.com/journal/2020/11/90570
Categories: Prachatai English

Lèse majesté returns as an activist summoned, 11 more expected to follow

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-11-25 15:09
Submitted on Wed, 25 Nov 2020 - 03:09 PMPrachatai

Parit ‘Penguin’ Chiwarak, a student activist who has been advocating monarchy reform, has received a police summons for violating Section 112 of the Criminal Code and the Computer Crime Act. A list from a police source shows charges against 11 more activists are expected to follow.

Parit Chiwarak

Parit posted a photo of the summons which he received at his home on 24 November. The issue date is 23 November 2020 and the name of the plaintiff is Sudhep Silpa-ngam. The offence is not specified. The summons orders Parit to hear the charge at the Technology Crime Suppression Division on 1 December 2020.

As of 25 November, Parit has recieved 2 more summons from his speech at the protests on 19-20 September and 14 November. The former protest charge is to be heard at the police station and the latter one is the sedition law violation.

Parit’s Facebook post shows that he is not worried.

“To whoever is the mastermind in enforcing this Section. I want to tell you here that I am not in the least afraid.

“The ceiling has broken. There will be nothing able to cover us anymore.”

According to Matichon, Royal Thai Police Headquarters report that investigation officers in many areas have issued summonses to 12 leading figures of the current pro-democracy protesters for violating Section 112 of the Criminal Code:

  1. Parit ‘Penguin’ Chiwarak
  2. Panussaya ‘Rung’ Sitthijirawattanakul
  3. Panupong ‘Mike’ Jadnok
  4. Anon Nampa
  5. Patsaravalee ‘Mind’ Tanakitvibulpon
  6. Chanin Wongsri
  7. Jutatip ‘Ua’ Sirikhan
  8. Piyarat ‘Toto’ Chongthep
  9. Tattep ‘Ford’ Ruangprapaikitseree
  10. Atthapol ‘Khru Yai’ Buapat
  11. Chukiat Saengwong
  12. Sombat Thongyoi

The reactivation of the lèse majesté law came after Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha  announced that every law would be used against the pro-democracy protesters after the protest in front of the Royal Thai Police HQ on 18 November.

According to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, the lèse majesté law has not been brought to the court since 2018. Lèse majesté charges have been replaced with charges for sedition (Section 116) and under the Computer Crime Act.  This comes after new procedures were introduced requiring the lèse majesté charges to receive prior vetting, unlike in the past where effectively anyone could file a complaint.

The lèse majesté law carries prison terms of 3-15 years for those found guilty of defaming, insulting, or threatening the King, the Queen, the Heir to the throne, or the Regent.

The charges have been brought as the protesters planned to protest again on 25 November at the Crown Property Bureau (CPB). The area around the CPB was later reinforced with razor wire and surrounding roads were blocked by shipping containers. Around 6,000 police officers were deployed to secure the area.

Despite a coup denial from Gen Narongpan Jitkaewthae, the Royal Thai Army Commander-in-Chief, there have been reports that military forces are being mobilized in a suspicious way in connection with the CPB protest.

On 24 November, Khaosod English livestream found people sitting around the perimeter of the CPB in private clothes but with military or police haircuts. They refused to be interviewed at all. At 22.00 on the same day, 4 military vehicles were spotted at Mahanakhon intersection, carrying people in private clothes and with police/military haircuts.

The protesters then announced a change of the protest site to the Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) main office at Ratchayothin. SCB's main stakeholder is King Vajiralongkorn. The stocks were transferred from the CPB, the organization that controlled royal assets on behalf of monarchy, to His Majesty’s personal property along with many other assets in 2018 due to the changes enacted in the Crown Property Act.

Newslese majesteStudent protest 2020Parit ChiwarakPanussaya SitthijirawattanakulPanupong JadnokAnon NampaPatsaravalee TanakitvibulponChanin WongsriJutatip SirikhanPiyarat ChongthepTattep RuangprapaikitsereeAtthapol BuapatChukiat SaengwongSombat ThongyoiSource: prachatai.com/journal/2020/11/90561
Categories: Prachatai English

Thai student activist listed as one of BBC’s 100 most influential women

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-11-25 13:45
Submitted on Wed, 25 Nov 2020 - 01:45 PMPrachatai

Student activist and protest leader Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul has been listed as one of BBC’s 100 most inspiring and influential women of 2020. 

Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul reading the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration's 10-point manifesto at the rally on 10 August 2020.

22-year-old Panusaya is one of the students leading the wave of pro-democracy protests that have swept through Thailand since July. At the 10 August rally at Thammasat University, Panusaya, as a representative of the student activist group United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, read a declaration containing the now-famous 10-point manifesto calling for monarchy reform. She has also spoken in support of monarchy reform on other occasions, and is one of the first people to publicly break the taboo and address the issue of the Thai monarchy during the 2020 protests.

Panusaya has been the target of a series of legal prosecutions due to her activism. Following the 10 August demonstration, lawyer and former advisor to the Chief Ombudsman Nattaporn Toprayoon filed a complaint with the Consitutional Court against Panusaya, human rights lawyer Anon Nampa, and student activist Panupong Jadnok accusing them of attempting to overthrow the “democratic regime with the monarch at the head of state” under Section 49 in the 2017 Constitution.

After the crackdown on the protest in front of Government House on 15 October, Panusaya was arrested at her hotel room on Khao San Road alongside student activist Nutchanon Pairoj, after she read out the People’s Party statement on the crackdown.

After being presented with an arrest warrant, Panusaya tore up the warrant and she and Nutchanon sat down on the floor in an act of resistance. Live-streamed video footage showed her and Nutchanon being put in wheelchairs and taken out of the room, before they were taken to the Border Patrol Police Region 1 headquarters.

Panusaya was charged with sedition, among other charges. The Thanyaburi Provincial Court denied her bail on the ground that she had repeated the same offenses many times. She was then imprisoned at Thanyaburi Prison before being moved to the Bangkok Remand Prison.

She was granted bail along with Parit and student activist Panupong Jadnok on 30 October, after the court denied a police request to extend their temporary detention.

In June 2020, Panusaya, Parit, and then-Student Union of Thailand (SUT) president Juthatip Sirikhan were also accused of violating the Emergency Decree for organizing a demonstration demanding justice for missing activist in exile Wanchalearm Satsaksit, a charge which they did not acknowledge, and of violating the Cleanliness Act from their white ribbon campaign to protest against Wanchalearm’s abduction.

Other names on the list included Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow; Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin; Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya; Chinese writer Fang Fang, who documented events in Wuhan during the Covid-19 pandemic; activist Laleh Osmany, who started the WhereIsMyName campaign to call for the Afghan government to record women’s names on official documents; Thai model, actor, and TV host Cindy Sirinya Bishop, who has been appointed the UN Women regional goodwill ambassador for Asia and the Pacific; and Thai landscape artist Kotchakorn Voraakhom.

The BBC has also left one name on the list blank to acknowledge the work of other unnamed women around the world who “have made a sacrifice to help others” and those who lost their lives while making a difference. 

NewsPanusaya SithijirawattanakulStudent protest 2020student movementYouth movementWoman activistBBC 100 womenUnited Front of Thammasat and Demonstration
Categories: Prachatai English

Lèse-majesté must not be used to criminalize pro-democracy protest leaders and participants, says FIDH

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-11-25 13:25
Submitted on Wed, 25 Nov 2020 - 01:25 PMInternational Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

Thai authorities must refrain from prosecuting individuals involved in the ongoing pro-democracy protests under Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code (lèse-majesté), FIDH urged today (25 November).

Yesterday, police summoned 12 activists to face charges under Article 112 in connection with their participation in the protests. Among the 12 are the following pro-democracy leaders: Messrs. Anon Nampa, Parit Chiwarak, Panupong Chadnok, Tattep Runagprapaikitseree, and Piyarat Chongthep; and Mses. Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, Juthathip Sirikan, and Pasarawalee Thanakitwibulpol.

“After failing to deter peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations with unnecessary and disproportionate use of force, the Thai government is now using lèse-majesté to silence protesters. The international community must urge the Thai government to handle the ongoing protests through dialogue and within the framework provided by international human rights standards," says Adilur Rahman Khan, FIDH Secretary-General.

On 20 November 2020, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha indicated that Article 112 would be among “all laws and articles” to be enforced against pro-democracy protesters. Article 112 punishes with prison terms of three to 15 years those who are found guilty of defaming, insulting, or threatening the King, the Queen, the Heir to the throne, or the Regent.

Prayuth’s statement represents a sudden U-turn in the Thai government’s policy with regard to the enforcement of Article 112. No legal action has been taken against individuals under Article 112 since July 2017, according to FIDH documentation. On 15 June 2020, Prayuth said Article 112 was not being enforced because King Rama X had “mercy and asked that it not be used.” [1]

FIDH reiterates its calls on the Thai government to amend Article 112 to bring it into line with Thailand’s human rights obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Thailand is a state party.

Various UN human rights monitoring mechanisms have repeatedly stated that Article 112 is inconsistent with international law and called for its amendment or repeal. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has consistently ruled that the deprivation of liberty stemming from lèse-majesté charges in Thailand is “arbitrary.” Between August 2012 and April 2019, the WGAD found the deprivation of liberty of all eight lèse-majesté cases brought to its attention to be “arbitrary,” and called for their immediate and unconditional release.

According to FIDH figures, between May 2014 and July 2017, at least 127 people were arrested under Article 112. Fifty-seven of them were sentenced to prison terms of up to 35 years.

Pick to PostInternational Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)Article 112freedom of expressionMonarchy reformStudent protest 2020student movementYouth movement
Categories: Prachatai English

Thais express support for the pro-democracy movement at King Rama IX’s birthplace

Prachatai English - Tue, 2020-11-24 20:48
Submitted on Tue, 24 Nov 2020 - 08:48 PMPrachatai

Thai people in Boston gathered at Bhumibol Square, a landmark honouring the birthplace of the late King Rama IX in the United States. They expressed support for the 3 demands for political and monarchy reform and also condemned the state use of violence against protesters.

The group took a photo with a yellow rubber duck along with their placards.

The event was held on 23 November at 10.00 EST. Around 15 Thais gathered to stage the symbolic action with banners and placards. They also exchanged views about past state violence against the people such as the 2010 crackdown and the 6 October 1976 massacre.

They also questioned about the way monarchy is being exploited for gain while those who scrutinize the situation are suppressed.

The group also brought along a yellow rubber duck, a pool toy that was used as a shield to protect the protesters against the police water cannon during the 17 November protest around Parliament, which later gained a mock honorific title by the protesters for its sacrifice.

The activity participants prostrated to a person sitting on the rubber duck, mocking the Thai humble manner toward the monarchy.

Messages displayed at the Boston protest also mentioned how participants were threatened in the past week by an official from the King of Thailand Birthplace Foundation (KTBF), a non-profit corporation and public charity aiming “to preserve Thai history where King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his family had lived in Massachusetts from 1916-1928”.

A pro-monarchy person wearing a yellow shirt was seen trying to prevent the group from taking photos at the square. The group avoided the confrontation and took photos nevertheless. The person, however, observed the event until it ended at 12.30.

According to the KTBF, the organization was incorporated in 1998 to preserve Thai history and culture. It also aims to improve the square to be worthy of His Majesty the late King. In 2003, the Foundation installed a King Bhumibol Adulyadej's Birthplace monument at the intersection of Eliot and Bennett streets at Harvard Square in Cambridge.

The late King Rama IX was born on 5 December 1927, at Mount Auburn Hospital, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

NewsStudent protest 2020King Rama IXBhumibol AdulyadejMassachusettSource: prachatai.com/journal/2020/11/90545?ref=internal_update_title
Categories: Prachatai English

DSI to investigate murders of Nong Bua Lumphu activists

Prachatai English - Tue, 2020-11-24 19:01
Submitted on Tue, 24 Nov 2020 - 07:01 PMProtection International

The Director-General of the Department of Special Investigation will visit the Dong Ma Fai Subdistrict in Nong Bua Lamphu to investigate the murders of local community rights defenders, but will not be able to meet with the activists' families as the visit was scheduled without consultation with the community. 

On 1 October 2020, the National Human Rights Commissioners made a visit to meet with the rights defenders of the Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Community Forest Conservation Group in Dong Ma Fai Subdistrict, Suwan Kuha District, Nong Bua Lam Phu Province. They later coordinated with the various departments such as the Department of Rights and Liberties Protection and the Department of Special Investigation to serve as the protection mechanism for rights defenders in the event of death threats made against Mr. Lertsak Kumkongsak, advisor to the Conservation Group, along with the cases of four previously murdered community rights defenders, Mr. Boonrod Duangkota, Mr. Sanan Suwan, killed in 1995, Mr. Som Hompromma and Mr. Thongmuan Khamjam, killed in 1999.

Last week, members of the Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Community Forest Conservation Group were informed by Police Lieutenant Colonel Banwat Traisuthiwong, Director of the Special Case Operation Center Area 4 that, on 25 November 2020 at 10:00 am, the Director-General of the Department of Special Investigation and his team will visit Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Community Forest Conservation Group. He wishes to meet with the families of the murdered four human rights defenders and Mr. Lertsak Kumkongsak, human rights defender and advisor to the Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Community Forest Conservation Group who has been facing life-threatening intimidations. The conservation group has made an official letter responding that it was inconvenient to meet due to rice harvesting and other engagement and asked to meet on 7-9 November 2020 instead. DSI has not yet been confirmed in the said proposal.

Although we are pleased that after 26 years of struggles against the mine and to reclaim justice to those killed without any interests of the authorities, we finally received attention from government agencies such as the Department of Special Investigation. We hope it would be a mechanism to restore justice, which has not yet been achieved for the families of the killed human rights defenders and communities.

However, we feel it is a pity that the visit by the Director-General of the Department of Special Investigation was decided without the consultation with the community based rights defenders. Had the dates been mutually agreed upon, Director-General would be able to meet with the families of four killed defenders, the group members, along with Mr. Lertsak Kumkongsak, an advisor to the conservation group and EHRD who are facing death threats.

As DSI will continue the same schedule to visit the area on 25 November 2020, the group hopes that in visiting the area, the DSI authorities would receive accurate, fair and useful information from relevant agencies which are the Special Case Operation Center 4 DSI, in conjunction with the Nong Bua Lam Phu Provincial Police Division and Suwan Khuha Police Station.

Previously, Ms. Sorn Khamjam a women human rights defender and wife of Mr. Thongmuan Khamjam who was killed in a quarry conflict, along with members of Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Community Forest Conservation Group, submitted a letter to the Royal Thai Police on 12 October 2020 to follow up on the justice of the killing of human rights defenders of the Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Community Forest Conservation Group.

It is worth noting key points in which the DSI authorities should be informed:

From a copy of the criminal investigation report No. 106/2552 of the murder cases of Mr. Som Hompromma and Mr. Thongmuan Kamjam, Mrs. Sorn Khamjam and the group have raised doubts in the investigation process as follows:

1. The assassination of Mr. Thongmuan Khamjam, which is an unnatural death, legally requires an autopsy. According to the Criminal Procedure Code, Section 148, that "when it appears explicitly or there is reason to suspect that any person has died naturally or died during the custody of the official, there must be an autopsy except for the death by execution.” However, it was not clear if there is an autopsy report available.

2. When Mr. Warit or On Wipe, the accused, surrendered himself to the police officers on 19 May 1999, the investigating officer informed the charge of murder and illegally owning firearms. However, on the same day the accused was given a temporary release despite the gravity of such charge. It is not clear whether the police has examined the weapons carried by Mr. On and match it with the one used to kill HRD Thongmuan.

3. According to the copy of the Criminal Investigation Report No. 106/2552, it appears that the there is just one statement out of all 57 witnesses. We made the request to the Superintendent of the Police Station to Suwan Khuha to share the full copy of the interrogation of 57 witnesses, which we have now received.  

4. The witness No. 46 - 52 was referred to the police by Mr. Uay Chaiwata, but why did the police officer in the case not summon Mr. Uay Chaiwata to interrogate him?

We hope that the Director-General of the Department of Special Investigation And relevant agencies will visit again as proposed by the group on 7-9 December 2020, to have the opportunity to meet with the families of the killed human rights defenders, Mr Lertsak Kunkongsak  and  other defenders at risk. We hope DSI can support us in restoring the justice to the four bodies of Dong Mafai and find measures to protect the rights defenders. The authorities must consult and listen to the will of human rights defenders, as this is the very first principle and practice of any work to protect human rights defenders.

With Solidarity,

Khao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Community Forest Conservation Group

Pick to PostProtection InternationalKhao Lao Yai-Pha Jun Dai Community Forest Conservation Groupcommunity rightshuman rights defenders
Categories: Prachatai English

Both sides of 14 Oct protesters yearn for peace despite differing ideas

Prachatai English - Tue, 2020-11-24 14:49
Submitted on Tue, 24 Nov 2020 - 02:49 PMThidatep Piboon

Interviews with protesters from both sides before the serial crackdowns and declaration of a severe state of emergency show that despite clashes and different ideologies, the supporters of both monarchism and democracy both shows signs of a desire for peace.

The Democracy Monument surrounded by protesters during the protest on 14 October, 2020.

After the student-led protest announced a call for monarchy reform, several royalist groups gathered to support the monarchy. Simultaneous rallies of the 2 groups did not occur until 14 October.

A royalist group had gathered on the morning of 16 August to observe the student-led protest that took place in the afternoon. As the number of pro-democracy protesters grew and grew, they dispersed in the afternoon as some in their protest seemed likely to stir up violence.

The confrontation on 14 October marked the first time pro-democracy supporters met the royalists. However, the emergence of the royalist group this time seemed to be suspiciously semi-officially organized.

As revealed by social media and photos, many of the people in yellow were government officials. Some seemed to be police officers recruited from other provinces countrywide. Also, official documents revealed that government offices in Chiang Mai, Phayao and the Department of Agriculture among others, gave out orders to recruit civilians to join nationalist activities. 

Supattra was sitting with her group. She seemed that well prepared for the protest with a folding chair.

Supattra Sittiracha, 82, a former doctor, joined the protest because she wanted to understand the thoughts of the younger generation and to support the movement. She had participated in protests before 2006 and this time, she admired the bravery and intelligence of the students.

Supattra told Prachatai that she wanted to see Thailand as progressive as other developed countries. The social gap and injustice should be eradicated so people could access opportunities and could have better social welfare helping them to live happily.

"Everyone can have ideas. It depends on what information they have received or sometimes they consume only one-sided media. And what has always been instilled in us and has always been repeated affects our decisions. We respect opinions. People who think differently can co-exist. But we don’t want to be blamed as ‘nation-haters,’ ‘scum of the earth,’ ‘drunk,’ or ‘ignorant’. I think that’s not right. Then, they insult the kids saying they don’t know anything. If they were open-minded and came into contact with them, they would see their intelligence and bravery are well beyond my generation. When I experience the atmosphere, it increases my energy and increases my courage”

She said that political discourse was a significant factor that prevented the formation of peaceful and logical discussion and that caused fractures and hatred in society. She also believed that confrontation between the 2 groups would not be violent because the student-led rally was pure and she understood the opposition’s stance.

High school students join the student-led protest.

A group of high school students joined the rally after their classes. They did not follow the general strike as they still had to be responsible for their studies but they were committed to joining the rally.

They revealed their anger towards the government, especially the day before when 21 activists were arrested on 13 October without arrest warrants or being told the charges. They said that they were scared of being arrested but they could not just sit back; the rally needed a huge crowd to accelerate the change.

“We are here to show our rights, to show our own voice that we are powerful enough to change our country,” said one of the students. “I want the government to take action and agree to listen to our demands so that our country can progress in the direction that people want. And for those who are still afraid about joining the rally, I want them to think how we can get what we want.”

They were concerned about the violence that might occur if the 2 groups confronted each other but they were also confident that the student-led rally would not cause any violence.

Kai surrounded by police in uniform and yellow shirts. Behind her was a small stage of red-shirt protesters.

Kai, 60, and a group of red-shirt protesters set up a small stage that was surrounded by police in uniform and police look-alikes in yellow shirts. They were dancing and enjoying music while the crowd was walking to Government House.

Kai said that she was not afraid of the police and soldiers as they were nice and they were on duty. She also told her experience of confronting yellow shirts who gathered nearby. She said that they called her ‘scum of the earth’ and they had a small argument. But it was not new for her; she had already experienced it in the past.

Kai said that she was inspired by the student-led movement. She was discouraged that the red-shirt protesters might no longer be present. But after she had seen the students fighting for their future, she was roused and felt encouraged to join the protest.

On the same day, at Makkhawan Rangsan bridge, yellow shirts gathered for a royal motorcade. As reported, many yellow shirts seemed to have been recruited by people supporting the government, such as Suthep Thaugsuban and Suwit Thongprasert, the former Phra Buddha Isara. And some were civilians from various government agencies.

It was widely reported on social media that some yellow shirts were recruited under duress by the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority. They also caught pictures of yellow shirts on a truck marked “Lak Si'”. Some of them raised 3 fingers, a sign of support for the student-led protest, when the truck passed by another group.

Thairath reported that the Royal Guard 904 also gathered at the King Rama V statue and later tried to approach the student-led protesters at night. However, despite questions about recruitment, quite a number of people showed their devotion, love and respect for the monarchy and were willing to wait for the royal motorcade.

A group of yellow shirts near Makkhawan Rangsan bridge.

M, 17, a representative from Sammasigkha Pathom Asoke School, waited to greet the royal motorcade with his friends. He said that his school promoted this activity and 54 students agreed to join.

“I feel good to join the activity greeting HM King Rama X. This is my first time to join,”  M revealed. “We are scheduled to go back to school at 7 p.m. but I don’t know yet what time he will come.”

Prachatai asked him if his school had any safety measures to protect their students when there was another protest organized nearby. He said that he was not informed of any details but he was not worried because he could not see any potential threat or violence from the student-led protest.

Chalor Bunyachoti, 61, enjoyed lunch with her friends. She told Prachatai that she had prepared since the day before. They woke up early to prepare food and drove from Kanchanaburi so that they could get a good spot to see His Majesty.

“We are here to show our respect and our loyalty. I am excited. this is my first time to greet King Rama X.”, said Chalor. She also said that she was not concerned about another rally and she would do her part.

Phanit and her friends at lunch while waiting to greet the King.

Phanit Phakkaso, 72, from Pathum Thani, had prepared an umbrella and raincoat in case it rained during her wait. She said that she rejoiced in joining this event as she had seen the monarchy work hard since the late King. As Thai people, we should not disgrace the nation that all Thai Kings died for.

Phanit said that she did not care about the student-led rally and she did not think that there would be any violence. Also, she thought that it was better for the 2 groups to avoid confrontation and she just wanted to show her gratefulness and respect to the nation and the monarchy.

“I want us to love each other and to love the monarchy always. I am willing to die for the monarchy because these days, I don’t have anything to worry about. I have no child. I have no husband. These days, I am a Royal Thai Volunteer. I have studied. I know everything about history, but children these days have not learned. We have to bring it back. The political situation has become like this. If people had studied. They would know what is what.”

Father [King Rama IX] is still up there, watching from above everything we do.  He is extraordinary. I am not kidding. It is as if he came down to look at the country, we would live happily. But there is an evil. But he cannot do anything. But Father created everything. We are now number one in Asia, in the world. Let’s say that. But we are a small country, we don’t talk about it. We have no debt, no debt and we’ve never been colonized. So I want us to love each other, love the nation as our ancestors made it. We must preserve this,” said Phanit.

Some yellow shirts did not give interviews because they “did not have information about the issue” although Prachatai told them that the interview would be opinion-based.

Thidatep Piboon is an intern from Mahidol University International College (MUIC)

FeatureStudent protest 2020monarchypolitics
Categories: Prachatai English

‘Bad Students’ protest against educational and political failure

Prachatai English - Tue, 2020-11-24 11:40
Submitted on Tue, 24 Nov 2020 - 11:40 AMPrachatai

Bad Students organized a #ByeByeDinosaur event under Siam BTS station to criticize educational failures and the inefficiency of the government. They also compared the Education Minister to a dinosaur after he voted to reject all 7 draft constitutional amendments. 

The Bad Students protest under the BTS platform. (Source: Citizen Journalist)

On 21 November 2020, Thai PBS reported on the demonstration “#ByeByeDinosaur” organized by Bad Students and the pro-democracy network. The students compared themselves to meteorites that would crush the dinosaurs, ignorant MPs trying to resist change. 

The demonstration started 1 hour later than scheduled and moved from Ratchaprasong to under Siam BTS to avoid the rain.

At 13.55 pm, more people continued to join the protest while protest guards fenced the area up to Chaloem Phao intersection and protest leaders confirmed they would not march anywhere.

At 15.05 pm, the protest leaders started their speeches and at the same time, they passed the ‘meteorites’ (painted beach balls) to the protesters to deliver the message that meteorites would crush the government to make a social change. They also sang satirical songs against the government.

A third-year college student put on a school uniform, taped her mouth and held up a banner with the message that she had been sexually harassed in school and that school is not a safe place. She said that the incident occurred when she was in 11th grade and there was no help and no change although she notified the school about the incident.

She also said that she joined the protest because she wanted to raise the problem of sexual harassment in schools, which has never been taken seriously. 

Amnesty International volunteers distributed colour-coded wristbands to those under 15 and 18 years of age so they would be prioritized for protection in the event of violence or if police started to make arrests. 

Two 8th-grade students revealed that they had joined more than 10 pro-democracy protests and this was the first time they received a pink wristband for immediate protection. “It makes us feel safer that we would be taken care of by adults because the situation is getting more violent.”

Nataphol called a dinosaur after he voted against all 7 draft constitutional amendment. 

According to Post Today, speakers criticized the failure of the government and the Education Ministry , especially Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan, a party-list MP of the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), who rejected all 7 draft constitutional amendments in the first reading, using as a justification the down-turn in the economy which would be negatively affected by the huge budget needed to amend the constitution. Nataphol and senators were compared to dinosaurs faced with extinction. 

The protesters also wrote messages on sticky notes to expose educational problems and make suggestions to the Minister, emphasizing the call to abolish school uniforms. There was also an appeal for funds for Bad Student to organize further activities. 

NewsBad StudentsStudent protest 2020Nataphol TeepsuwanpoliticseducationSource: https://prachatai.com/journal/2020/11/90512
Categories: Prachatai English

Equal Justice Under Law

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-11-23 20:25
Submitted on Mon, 23 Nov 2020 - 08:25 PMHarrison George

Equal Justice Under Law

(Phrase engraved over the entrance to the US Supreme Court.  No Thai equivalent has been identified.)

“It is necessary for the government and security agencies to intensify their actions by using all laws and all articles to take action against demonstrators who break the law and show no respect for the rights of other people.”

Uncompromising statement by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, Prime Minister of the land of compromise, 19 September 2020.

A police station, somewhere in Bangkok.  An investigating officer, fresh from his weekly haircut, reports for duty only 2 hours late.

Right, what have we got this mo-, oh my giddy aunt, what’s all this?

List of cases for us to investigate.

What?  But there’s hundreds and hundreds of them.  It’s not the New Year jay-walking campaign already is it?

Orders from the top.  Charge everyone in the demos with everything.  This is just for us.  There’s so many they had to share them out among stations.

Well, can’t we just say it wasn’t on our patch like we always do?

Like I said, orders from the top.  The Very Top.  No holds barred.  Not just Section 116 any more.  We can charge them with 112, 110, 108, …

Wait a minute.  There’s a Section 108?  I never knew that.  What’s it say?

Er, hang on a minute, I’ll have to look it up.  Anyone got a copy of the Criminal Code? 

I saw one lying around a month or two back.  Maybe it’s in the cells.

It’s alright, I can look it up on the computer.  Here we go, ‘Whoever commits an act of violence against the King or His Liberty shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life.’

Whew.  Well, His Maj wasn’t at the demos, they can’t use that charge.

Oh no?  Remember that pushy farang reporter?  Shoved his mike under the royal nose and started an interview without a by your leave?

But he didn’t hit him with it, did he? 

No, but he did hold everything up and there were all those people waiting for a royal tete-a-tete like the mad ex-monk and so on.  Violence against His Liberty, that is.  At least that’s what the courts will call it.

Ah well, I suppose we’d better make a start.  Oh, this first one’s handy, multiple defendants.  I like those.  One investigation, dozens of convictions.  Hang on, half of these names are foreign. 

Oh yeah, that’s illegal possession of weapons.  These are all the reporters who were covering the protests.

They had guns?  Surely not.

No of course not, but the most of them wore flak jackets and such.  According to the law they’re classified as weapons because we can have them but they can’t. 

Well that case will do the national image a power of good.  So who’s next?

This lot are being done for illegally impersonating a public utility. 

Illegally what?

Remember they made those fake post boxes out of litter bins?  Painted them red with a proper logo and then everyone posted their comments in them?

Oh yeah.  And Chanasongkram have had to spend hours figuring out if Donald J Trump and Voldemort can be prosecuted.  Enough to turn anyone republican.

Well it seems pretending that something’s a post box when it’s not, is an offence.  So they’re done.

OK, so that case is a dead letter.  Geddit, geddit?

Now this one’s more tricky.  Caught him graffiti-ing the road outside Police HQ.  He’s been charged with slandering the Ministry of Education.

Pardon?

Well, they wanted to bring a charge of violating the rules of English grammar, but they discovered that’s not a crime …

If it was, the jails would be full of English teachers.

… so this is their best shot.

But what’s English grammar got to do with it?

Well he wrote ‘I here too’ in English, you see, and they want to get him for not adding an ‘am’ in the middle.

But that’s not what he meant.  See, if you say it in Thai, it means …

Yes, yes, we all know that.  But The Great Compromiser doesn’t want that kind of thing read out in court, so this is a sort of round-the-corner, backdoor charge.

And good luck with that.  So who’s Y R Duck in this next one?  Resisting police brutality.  Is that a crime now?

Yeah, they’re really scraping the barrel on this one.  Not is it not really a crime, but guess who Y R Duck is.

I give in.

Yellow Rubber Duck.  His nibs is not happy at all with the publicity this stunt got.  The pictures in the international news didn’t look good.  We got shown firing water cannon and tear gas against cute, cheery little rubber ducks.  So he wants it stop.  The ducks that is, not the water cannon and tear gas.  And he thinks if he makes an example of one duck, it’ll be a deterrent. 

And we’ve put Y R Duck in the cells? 

No problem.  One of the radical monks we picked up is using it to sit on and do his meditation.

Ah, now, this one is more like it.  Taking up arms against the duly elected government, refusing to give the oath of office, appointing a convicted drug dealer as a minister and then giving his mia noi a government job, the list goes on.  And he’s been illegally living rent-free in government housing.  Sonny Jim here has been a very naughty boy.  He’s going down for a long, long, - .  Oh it’s not him, is it?

Alien ThoughtsAlien thoughtsAlien thoughtsHarrison GeorgeStudent protest 2020
Categories: Prachatai English

Thai New Yorkers rally in support of the democratic movement at home

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-11-23 18:07
Submitted on Mon, 23 Nov 2020 - 06:07 PMPrachatai

On 19 November, Thai people in New York gathered at the United Nations Headquarters to support the pro-democracy movement in Thailand and submit an open letter condemning the illegitimate use of force against peaceful protesters at the 17th November protest at Parliament.

Participants in the event at New York. One can be seen raising a 3-finger salute, the anti-dictatorship gesture of the protesters in Thailand.

The group called themselves ‘Thai New Yorkers For Democracy’, and Thai-Americans and New Yorkers set up placards, banners and Thai flags. They also went to the Peace Monument, a public landmark across from the UN HQ, to communicate to the people about what is happening in Thailand.

Flur, 27, a New Yorker activist in the Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ movements said that there is no reason not to have the ability to exercise rights, and claim democracy and the right to choose their leaders.

Jay Jay, 37, a Thai-American citizen and the group’s Facebook page administrator who has been in the US for 13 years, said he rallied to send his support to the movement in Thailand and oppose the state use of force against the protesters on 17 November.

“...We love and care for everyone in Thailand and want to see everybody have a better life, so we have come.

“For the government action against the protesters, I think it’s too violent and should never have happened because the protests were orderly and peaceful, unlike the regular protests that we used to see that involved violence and ran the risk of causing injury and death”, said Jay.”

Jay also said the only way out of the situation is for the state to accept the protesters’ demands. The monarchy must also be under the constitution as it is a universal principle. If the monarchy wants to co-exist in society, it must live under the same rules.

Participants writing a placard provided in the event.

Many bystanders also paid attention and asked about the situation in Thailand. A female police officer who had visited Thailand as a tourist also sent her support for Thais to achieve democracy.

Due to limitations caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the group coordinator was unable to have UN officials come out to receive the letter. They then submitted the letter via email and dispersed at 16.00 NYC time.

Condemnation of Illegitimate Use of Force Against Peaceful Protesters

On the 17th of November 2020, Thai authorities used excessive force to disperse protesters rallying towards the parliament building. This consisted of repeated use of tear-gas, high-pressure water cannons mixed with irritable chemicals and rubber bullets.

Additionally, pro-monarchy counter protesters assaulted the protesters with rocks, wooden boards, flag poles, and firearms. Both incidents ultimately resulted in several injured, including children, students, adults, Buddhist monks, elderly people, and medical staff. The pro-monarchy counter protesters were not charged by the Thai authorities nor were they imprisoned or held accountable for their crimes of battery, assault, and deadly use of firearms.

Thailand is a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and has made a commitment to uphold the principles of free human beings with civil and political freedoms and the obligation to promote universal respect for and observance of human rights including the right to peaceful assembly under Article 21, the right to hold opinions without interference under Article 19, and the right to freedom of association under Article 22. The Thai government has not upheld these international obligations.

Members of Thai New Yorkers for Democracy therefore condemn the illegitimate and excessive use of force against these peaceful protesters and urge the Thai government and parliament to:

1. Cease all forms of violent action to disperse peaceful demonstrations

2. Listen to the people without discrimination regarding political perspectives

3. Administer the law impartially and humanely treat citizens without discrimination and bias based on their political perspectives 

4. Re-consider adopting the constitutional draft and establish a constituent assembly immediately in order to accomplish a resolution of political conflicts in Thailand.

Thai New Yorkers for Democracy

Note: As of 23 November, it has been impossible to confirm the police use of rubber bullets.

NewsThai New Yorkers For DemocracyNew YorkStudent protest 2020United Nations (UN)Source: prachatai.com/journal/2020/11/90511
Categories: Prachatai English

FCCT calls for safety for journalists

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-11-20 21:36
Submitted on Fri, 20 Nov 2020 - 09:36 PMForeign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT)

The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT) issued a statement following the crackdown on the protest at the parliament compound on 17 November urging journalists to take precautions when covering protests and for the authorities to legalise the use of body armour for journalists and paramedics working in conflict areas. 

Protesters and reporters during the 6-hour clash on Samsen Road on 17 November

The statement reads: 

The professional membership of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand notes the alarming escalation of violence which left at least 55 injured in protests outside parliament on Tuesday, 17 November, including the use of tear gas and water cannon laced with chemicals.

Of more serious concern were reports citing the Erawan Medical Centre that some pro-reform protestors were treated for gunshot wounds after clashes between royalist and student-led groups.

We urge all journalists to take precautions when covering future protests, including use of protective head, face and body equipment. We reiterate our call on the Thai authorities to legalise the use of body armour for journalists and paramedics, who need to work in conflict areas where there is a risk of gunshot injuries.

As the law stands it is illegal to own or use body armour, and journalists have been prosecuted for doing so.

We also call on the government and security forces to exercise restraint in dealing with unarmed protestors, and to recognize that media members including TV crews, reporters, photographers and interpreters on the scene are doing their jobs under extremely difficult and dangerous conditions.

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Voices at Ratchaprasong call for a better Thailand

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-11-20 13:22
Submitted on Fri, 20 Nov 2020 - 01:22 PMPrachatai

Thousands gathered at Ratchaprasong on 18 November to protest the authorities’ use of force against protestors the day before and the parliamentary vote to reject in its first reading the constitutional amendment draft proposed by iLaw and backed by over 90,000 voters.

Only 2 out of 7 draft amendments passed the first reading: the one by the government coalition and one of those by the opposition, both to amend Section 256 allowing the establishment of a Constitution Drafting Assembly.

Prachatai spoke to some of the protesters at Ratchaprasong, most of whom said they would like to see the country changing for the better.

Nugul Ratiyapinun

Nugul Ratiyapinun was at the 17 November protest near the parliament compound, during which he was tear-gassed, but still came to the protest at Ratchaprasong the next day.

“I want to see the people accept change in the country. Most of the people must live with the reality that the world has changed now in terms of economics and communications. Thailand should adapt too. The constitution should truly grant the rights and freedoms of the people, [as a full-fledged democracy, not a half-fledged one as it currently is,” Nugul said.

He also said that the appointment of 250 senators by a junta-appointed commission, plus the regulation that a third of them must approve the first reading of the amendments showed that the minority has more power than the majority, which made him feel that Thai democracy is not democratic.

The highland youngsters for democracy group

A group of three men who called themselves “highland youngsters for democracy” was also at the protest. They said that they came from a Pga K’nyau ethnic community (also known as Karen) in Tak Province and said they would like to see more change, as the conditions around their community are severely underdeveloped.

“We came to protest. We would like a new prime minister, because Prayut didn’t come into office legitimately. He recruited the 250 senators himself, he chose them himself, and then the senators elected him as prime minister,” one of the group said.

Another member of the group said that he is studying at Ramkhamhaeng University and was following the parliamentary discussion on the draft constitutional amendments. He said he was angry that parliament did not approve of the draft that was backed by the people, and because of the use of violence against protesters on 18 November, so he decided to join the Ratchaprasong protest.

“[The 2017 constitution] truly did not come from the people. It’s some unknown power. If it stays this way, it’s not going to end,” said one member of the group.

The trio said that they would like to see the protesters’ three demands become reality so that there can be improvements to the country, such as a better universal healthcare programme, and that if the three demands come true, the country will definitely be changed for the better.

In front of the police headquarters, P., 15, was standing with the group of protesters shouting at the police officers. She said that she was angry with the authorities for their use of force against the protesters on 17 November, even though she was not there.

“I was very angry that they did this. We are the owners of the country. This country is not their country as they say, but what they are doing is a great insult to us. We are out here to demand our rights in proposing constitutional amendments,” P. said.

“But look at what they did to us. Water cannon. Loudspeaker trucks. Batons. Shields. Personally, I think it’s not fair. If you want to be democratic, but you have no justice, then you shouldn’t call yourself democratic, but we’re a dictatorship right now.

“Right now I’m in Mathayom 4 (Year 10). In 6 years, I will finish 4th year (of university). I have to find a job. If he stays for another 2 - 3 years, that has to have an effect until when I’m working. I will not accept a life without getting what I should get. The tax I pay is not what I deserve. I feel that I have to come out to demand my rights. My friends, my younger siblings, or my children in the future should have a better life than this.”

As she is not yet 18, P. is too young to sign her support for the constitutional amendments proposed by iLaw, but she said that the current constitution is not fair to the people and written in favour of those in power instead of for the people. She said she feels that the iLaw constitutional amendment draft would work better, as it is written by the people.

P. is a student in a private school and said that she has never gone to a public school, but she said that she has a cousin in a public school and realised that she and her cousin are studying very different things. She said she wondered why they don’t get to study the same things, even though they are in the same country.

She said that even the Education Minister is sending his children overseas, and asked how she could believe in the system when even the Minister himself doesn’t believe in it.

P. asked us not to show her face, as she is worried that her mother will scold her for joining the protest. She said that her mother feels that the protests are dangerous, and that her grandfather supports the Prime Minister.

She said that she cannot tell her family members, except for her father, that she is joining the protest, even though she thinks that anyone joining the protest should let someone know because it would be safer.

When asked if she agrees more with her father when it comes to politics, P. said yes. She said that her father once joined the PDRC protest and felt that he is part of the reason why young people have to protest now, and that his daughter is doing the right thing in joining the protest.

“My father said that, in the end, the person who has to make a life is me, not him, so it is my right to come out or not to come out to call for my rights,” she said.

P. told us that she tried to explain to her mother, who is worried about her safety, that she is going to benefit from the constitutional amendments, that she is going to have a better life. She said that her mother tries to understand, and that her mother supports the pro-democracy movement but does not see good things about coming to the protests.

“Yesterday, she saw violence, so I tried to explain to her that we weren’t violent. The other side was violent. She said that in any event it’s violent and that if I go, it’s still dangerous. She’s okay with me supporting this side, but she’s just not okay with going to protests,” P. said. 

Ruangthap Kaeokaemchan

Meanwhile, children’s rights and welfare advocates were seen stationed in front of Central World, where they formed a group called “children in the mob” to spread information about children’s rights, statistics about children and young people affected by protest crackdowns, and how to take care of children in protests.

Ruangthap Kaeokaemchan, a member of the group, said they held this activity to inform the protesters about safe spots for children for first aid in the protest as well as the way to take care of them if a crackdown took place.

She said the right to political expression is a child’s right. Children should be protected from the time they arrive at the protest until the time that they return home. Unlike in other countries, protests in Thailand have never been safe enough for children to join. The authorities should not respond to a peaceful movement by violence.

“We are not saying that we invite the children to protests. But we are saying what you should have in mind when you come to a protest. And safety is an important thing to be aware of. Parents or the leading figures must also be aware. But the venues of protests in Thailand have never been made safe at all.” said Ruangthap.

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Categories: Prachatai English

Cartoon by Stephff: A new hope

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-11-20 11:39
Submitted on Fri, 20 Nov 2020 - 11:39 AMStephffCartoon by Stephff: A new hope

MultimediaStephffstudent movementStudent protest 2020Youth movement
Categories: Prachatai English

Thai police's use of water cannons and tear gas a violation of international human rights standards, says HRW

Prachatai English - Fri, 2020-11-20 11:23
Submitted on Fri, 20 Nov 2020 - 11:23 AMHuman Rights Watch

Thai police unnecessarily used water cannons and teargas against peaceful democracy demonstrators outside the parliament in Bangkok on November 17, 2020, in violation of international human rights standards, Human Rights Watch said yesterday (19 November).

Protesters using sitting mats as makeshift shields against water cannon blasts

At about 2:25 p.m., police attempted to prevent a demonstration organized by the People’s Movement from reaching the parliament, where a debate on constitutional amendments, including possible reforms to the monarchy, was underway. Human Rights Watch observed crowd control units using water cannon laced with purple dye and an apparent teargas chemical, as well as teargas grenades and pepper spray grenades to disperse thousands of demonstrators, including many students. The dispersal operation continued until the demonstration ended at about 9 p.m. Protests on November 18 proceeded without violence.

On November 18, the spokesperson for United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres “expressed concern about the [human rights] situation in Thailand … it’s disturbing to see the repeated use of less lethal weapons against peaceful protesters, including water cannons … it’s very important that the government of Thailand refrain from the use of force and ensures the full protection of all people in Thailand who are exercising a fundamental peaceful right to protest.”

“The Thai authorities should heed the advice of the UN Secretary-General and stop using excessive or unnecessary force against demonstrators, while preventing violence by any group so the situation doesn’t escalate out of control,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Thai authorities should promptly and impartially investigate the violence, including the alleged use of firearms by pro-government demonstrators, and prosecute all those responsible for abuses regardless of their political affiliation or rank.”

At least 55 people were injured, most from inhaling teargas, according to the Bangkok Emergency Medical Service. The injured included six democracy demonstrators who suffered gunshot wounds during a clash with pro-government ultra-royalist groups near the protests. 

The Thai government should transparently and impartially investigate all aspects of the November 17 violence, Human Rights Watch said. This should include an inquiry into the circumstances and decision-making process for the extensive use of water cannons and teargas by the police against peaceful demonstrators. The Thai government should be clear that its rules on the use of force by law enforcement comply with international human rights standards and are strictly followed at all times.

Under the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials and other international human rights standards, law enforcement may only use force when strictly necessary and to the extent required to achieve a legitimate policing objective. The 2020 United Nations guidance on less-lethal weapons in law enforcement states that “Water cannon should only be used in situations of serious public disorder where there is a significant likelihood of loss of life, serious injury, or the widespread destruction of property.” In addition, water cannon should “not target a jet of water at an individual or group of persons at short-range owing to the risk of causing permanent blindness or secondary injuries if persons are propelled energetically by the water jet.” In line with international standards, teargas should only be employed when necessary to prevent further physical harm and should not be used to disperse nonviolent demonstrations.

The Thai government has shown increased hostility toward democracy demonstrations, which started on July 18 and later spread across the country. Demonstrators have called for the resignation of the government, the drafting of a new constitution, and an end to harassment for exercising freedom of expression. Some of the protests included demands to curb the king’s powers.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights reported that at least 90 protesters currently face illegal assembly charges for holding peaceful protests in Bangkok and other provinces since July. Some protest leaders have also been charged with sedition, which carries a maximum seven-year prison term, for making demands regarding reforms of the monarchy.

International human rights law, as expressed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Thailand ratified in 1996, protects the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. But Thai authorities have routinely enforced censorship and stifled public discussions about human rights, political reforms, and the monarchy’s role in society.

Over the past decade, authorities have prosecuted hundreds of activists and dissidents on serious criminal charges such as sedition, computer-related crimes, and lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) for the peaceful expression of their views. In addition, over the past six months, the authorities have used emergency measures to help control the Covid-19 pandemic as a pretext to ban anti-government rallies and harass pro-democracy activists.

“The Thai government should end the police crackdown on peaceful demonstrations or risk further unnecessary violence,” Adams said. “Concerned governments and the United Nations should publicly urge the Thai government to end its political repression and instead engage in dialogue on democratic reforms.”

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Parliament rejects civil society’s draft constitutional amendment

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-11-19 20:34
Submitted on Thu, 19 Nov 2020 - 08:34 PMPrachatai

After parliamentary scrutiny of constitutional amendments was delayed for a month, only 2 out of 7 drafts passed the first reading: the proposal by the government coalition and one of those by the opposition to amend Section 256 allowing the establishment of a Constitution Drafting Assembly.

The Parliament House of Thailand

Here is a summary of the parliamentary votes [Source: elect.in.th]

Draft

Proposal

Adopt

Reject

Abstain

1st

Opposition coalition excluding the Move Forward Party: to amend Section 256 to establish an elected Constitution Drafting Assembly

577

21

121

2nd

Government coalition: to amend Section 256 to establish a partly elected, partly appointed Constitution Drafting Assembly

647

17

55

3rd

Opposition coalition: to remove senate’s authority over the National Strategy (Sections 270-271)

213

34

472

4th

Opposition coalition: to remove senate’s right to vote for the PM

(Sections 159 and 272)

266

21

432

5th

Opposition coalition: to delegitimize NCPO orders (Section 279)

209

50

460

6th

Opposition coalition: to reinstate each voter’s right to vote for both constituency MPs and the party list

268

19

432

7th

Civil society organization iLaw: a more comprehensive proposal described in detail below

212

138

369

* 13 parliamentarians were absent from the meeting.

4 MPs and 3 senators rejected all the drafts. The MPs are Chanwit Wiphusiri and Nataphol Teepsuwan (Education Minister) of the Palang Pracharat Party, Chumpol Julsai of the Democrat Party, and Supol Julsai of the Ruam Palang Prachachart Thai Party, who all participated in the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) movement which called for a coup to overthrow the Yingluck Shinawatra administration in 2014.

The rejectionist senators were Gen Thawatchai Samutsakorn, Acting Sub Lt Wongsiam Phengphanichaphakdi and Surasit Treethong.

According to The Reporters, Yingcheep Atchanont, the iLaw Manager who gave a presentation in parliament, expressed his disappointment that senators and some MPs did not argue on the principles, but rather criticized the legal approach and questioned iLaw’s financial support from foreign organizations. 

However, he still thought that this was a good beginning because the people had expressed their demands and some principles were accepted by senators and MPs.

He also said that as the initiator of the draft, iLaw had accomplished its role in proposing the constitutional amendment and would continue their work. iLaw would not be running for membership of the constitution drafting assembly as it was not the principle of iLaw. But they would monitor the formation of the assembly and if it was not entirely elected, they would definitely object.

“One more thing is that we can still have expectations of all the MPs who spoke today in support of the principles. Some said that they largely agreed apart from certain technical details. But as they voted against the draft in today’s discussion, for the other principles that they accept, they still have the authority, as members of Parliament, to join more than 90 people to re-submit the draft later." 

"They don’t need to wait for people to collect hundreds of thousands of documents to submit to parliament again. This is what we can call for. Anyone who sees any principles that can be jointly accepted, that should exist in this country, they can help call for them and drive them forward. There are many ways to achieve a constitutional amendment.”

The iLaw version establishes an all-elected constitutional drafting committee, using the whole country as an electoral district. It disqualifies senators, members of independent organizations and others appointed by the military government. It abolishes the provision allowing an unelected PM, the amnesty that the military government awarded to itself, the voting system where one ballot is counted for both constituency and party-list MPs, and the 20-year National Strategy.

It is interesting to see how fragmented the voting was, especially among senators who have a reputation of being a rubber stamp that votes unanimously in favour of the government interests. This was seen after the 2019 general election when all 250 senators voted for Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha as PM.

Senators' voices this time were quite diverse; most adopted the first and the second drafts, like the government parties, but for the 4th-7th drafts, their votes and opinions differed. There were even 3 senators and some government MPs who voted for iLaw’s draft. The opposition parties, with the exception of 2 MPs from Pheu Thai, voted in favour of all 7 drafts.

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Categories: Prachatai English

Protest at Ratchaprasong demand justice after police crackdown

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-11-19 19:35
Submitted on Thu, 19 Nov 2020 - 07:35 PMPrachatai

Thousands of pro-democracy protesters gathered at the Ratchaprasong intersection yesterday evening (18 November) before marching to the nearby national police headquarters to demand justice following the police crackdown on the protest at the parliament compound on Tuesday (17 November).

Protesters at the Ratchaprasong Intersection flashing the three-finger salute

The protesters began gathering at the Ratchaprasong intersection at around 15.00. At 15.50, police officers came to issue a warning to the protesters that, as they had not notified the authorities of the protest as required by the Public Assembly Act, they must disperse by 16.15.

By 16.05, protesters had occupied the intersection, closing off traffic on both sides. Meanwhile, the Arts Student Committee, Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University announced that the faculty’s Maha Chakri Sirindhorn building, which is accessible through the gates on the Henri Dunant Road, had been designated a safe zone in case of a crackdown, and that they would provide clean water, saline solution, and first-aid equipment.

At 17.14, protesters were seen bringing in inflatable rubber ducks to the protest site at Ratchaprasong. Images of the ducks went viral on the internet the night before after they were used by protesters at the Kiak Kai Intersection, near the parliament compound, as makeshift shields against water cannon blasts.

Giant inflatable ducks were seen at the Ratchaprasong protest

A small group of protesters was also seen near the wall around the police headquarters, as they shouted at the officers stationed inside the wall calling for them to stand with the people and calling them out for the authorities’ use of force against the protesters at parliament.

Protesters standing for the national anthem while flashing the three-finger salute

At 18.13, the protesters stood for the national anthem while giving the three-finger ‘Hunger Games’ salute. At 18.20, protesters in front of the Police General Hospital began lining up to march to the police headquarters, led by a group of protesters carrying inflatable ducks.

Protesters marching to the police headquarters while carrying inflatable ducks

Prior to the protest, there were reports of riot police being stationed inside the police headquarters, as well as water cannon trucks. The gates around the police headquarters were also chained, blocked with concrete blocks and trucks, and guarded by police officers carrying shields and batons.

The police headquarters gates were blocked with trucks

Groups of protesters were seen throwing paint at the police headquarters sign, as well as spray-painting the walls and gates as a response to the crackdown on 18 November. They also used chalks to write messages on the street in front of Central World.

Protesters in front of the police headquarters also shouted insults at the officers stationed inside. Some sprayed water at the officers with water pistols, but were stopped by other protesters, while the volunteer protest guards tried to keep protesters from getting too close to the headquarters wall.

Protesters gathering near the police headquarters

The protest concluded at 20.20, after student activist Panupong Jadnok announced that there will be another demonstration on 25 November at the Crown Property Bureau. Student activist Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul also made the same announcement on her social media accounts, as did the student activist group Free Youth.

The protest took place while parliament was voting on the first reading of the 7 constitutional amendment drafts. Only 2 drafts were accepted by parliament, both of which proposed to amend Section 256 of the constitution to establish a Constitutional Drafting Committee. The difference between the two drafts is that, in the draft proposed by the government coalition, some members of the Committee are appointed, while in the draft proposed by the opposition, excluding the Move Forward Party, all committee members are elected.

The draft constitutional amendments proposed by iLaw and endorsed by over 100,000 members of the public, now known as the “people’s draft,” did not pass as it did not get enough votes from the senate.

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Categories: Prachatai English

End police brutality and use of violence against the democracy movement, says rights group

Prachatai English - Thu, 2020-11-19 15:47
Submitted on Thu, 19 Nov 2020 - 03:47 PMFORUM-ASIA

The use of violence by police to disperse yesterday’s protest by the pro-democracy movement is unjustified, and fails to meet the international human rights standards Thailand has committed itself to, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), said in a statement yesterday (18 November). 

Protesters gathering on Samsen Road to demand constitutional amendments on 17 November were met with water cannons and tear gas.

Thai police, yesterday, dispersed pro-democracy movement protesters who had gathered around the Parliament House in Bangkok to observe the hearings on proposals for constitutional amendments. The police used chemical laced and dyed water from water cannons against unarmed protesters and continuously used tear gas for at least five hours to disperse the gathering. More than 50 people were injured, of whom, 32 suffered the effects of the tear gas while six were reported to have had gunshot wounds.

‘Yesterday’s violent dispersal marks a disturbing escalation of violence against the protesters. This is the third time that the police have used water cannons and have escalated to throwing tear gas canisters for the first time towards the protesters. These methods are disproportionate and unnecessary and cannot be justified under international human rights standards and crowd dispersal standards,’ the rights group said.

One of the seven proposals for discussion was a constitutional amendment bill, submitted by iLaw, a Thai civil society group advocating for freedom of expression, pushing for reforms to end the military legacy in the Constitution. The proposal by iLaw for this bill received more than 100,000 signatures. The iLaw’s proposed bill is perceived by the pro-democracy movement as a crucial step of the call for the constitutional changes.

The demand for constitutional reforms stems from issues in the current 2016 constitution, drafted by the then-military regime. While Thailand’s military regime has officially ended, the country still uses this Constitution which reinforces the disproportionate powers of the military and its allies. For the pro-democracy movement, the Constitution has allowed the military to retain their hold on the country and the amendment will be a crucial step towards shifting greater power towards the people and the realisation of their democratic rights.

Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which Thailand has ratified, States have a responsibility to respect and ensure peaceful assemblies. Instead of facilitating yesterday’s protest, the police failed to address a clash between royalist supporters in yellow shirts calling for the retention of the Constitution, and the pro-democracy movement.

‘The Thai Government’s actions against peaceful protesters will only prolong the current political conflict and cannot hold any form of credible dialogue or engagement if it is to continue violating the fundamental rights of its people,’ said FORUM-ASIA.

Call for constitutional amendments answered with tear gas, water cannon

The Government of Thailand should comply with its international obligations under the ICCPR to respect and facilitate the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression. Primary to this is to end the use of police violence, or tactics that lead to further conflict. Police officers who engaged in any form of brutality or violence in yesterday’s protests, should be held accountable.

While the Government presents itself as being committed to dialogue, its actions yesterday cast doubts on its willingness to engage meaningfully. It should prove that it is committed towards the protection of the rights of all, even those that pose dissent or unpopular opinions.

‘Genuine dialogue is only possible if the fundamental freedoms of the people are respected, and if the people are able to express themselves without the fear of State violence,’ said the group.

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Categories: Prachatai English

Call for constitutional amendments answered with tear gas, water cannon

Prachatai English - Wed, 2020-11-18 23:24
Submitted on Wed, 18 Nov 2020 - 11:24 PMPrachatai

Protesters gathering on the streets in front of the parliament building to demand constitutional amendments on 17 November were met with blockades and riot police, as well as water cannon and tear gas.

A protester at the Bangkrabue intersection barricade flashing the three-finger 'Hunger Games' salute as tear gas smoke loomed ahead.

Police water cannon began firing at protesters at around 14.00, an hour before the scheduled start time of the protest as announced by the student activist group Free Youth. The police reportedly warned protesters beforehand that they would fire a warning shot, and made an announcement while they were counting down that they had mixed a chemical irritant into the water.

At 16.00, on Samsen Road, in front of the Boon Rawd Brewery Co, Ltd, the police fired water cannon and tear gas at the protesters again, while protesters at the Kiak Kai Intersection brought in the giant inflatable ducks, nicknamed “the navy” and previously intended as a mockery of the government, to be used as shields against the water cannon.

Riot police blocking Samsen Road behind a barricade of concrete blocks and razor wire

At 19.44, after almost 6 hours of struggle, during which the police continuously fired water cannon and tear gas at protesters at both the Bang Krabue and Kiak Kai intersections, protesters broke through the police barricade at the Bang Krabue intersection, while protesters have already broken through at the Kiak Kai intersection.

At 20.50, the protesters arrived in front of the parliament building, while police retreated inside the parliament compound.

Protesters were continuously hit with water cannons during the 6 hours of struggle to break through police blockade

There were reports of more than 10 waves of tear gas being used on protesters both in canister form and from the water cannon. Thairath also reported that gunshots and explosions were heard during a clash between pro-monarchy protesters in yellow and the pro-democracy guards.

Folk, a young monk, faced several tear gas salvoes on the front line at Bang Krabue intersection. He said that he and like-minded monks had formed the ‘New Religion Reform Group’.

The group calls for real separation of the state and religion and an end to the involvement of religion in economic gain. He was not afraid of the threat from the Sangha Supreme Council of Thailand, the national supreme ruling body of the monkhood, which condemned monks’ participation in protests. Folk said that the threat was not based on any original regulation governing monks.

Protesters were also using sitting mats to defend themselves against the water cannon blasts

Former human rights commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit was at the protest site. She said that she was supposed to attend a subcommittee meeting, but could not get to the parliament building because of the blockade set up by the authorities, and that she was also hit by tear gas.

Angkhana said that there was no violence from the protesters, but the authorities used tear gas anyway, and the police even told the protesters they were going to use rubber bullets, which does not comply with international human rights principles.

Former Pheu Thai MP Tossaporn Serirak was also at the protest. He said that he has been helping protesters who were hit with tear gas and water cannon, and that he was hit with both himself. He said that what the authorities have done is highly inappropriate.

As for the discussion taking place at the time in parliament, Tossaporn said he finds it unnecessary, as there have been previous attempts to stall the process from both the senate and government MPs, and that the voting is going to show how sincere they are toward the people.

The inflatable rubber ducks brought in by protesters at the Kiak Kai intersection barricade were later used as shields against water cannon blasts. 

The protest took place at the same time as a special parliamentary session scheduled for 17-18 November during which senators and members of parliament discussed 7 proposals for constitutional amendments.

Chiranuch Premchaiporn, former Prachatai director and now part of the team which proposed the so-called “people’s draft” of constitutional amendments, spoke during the parliamentary session as a representative of the drafters. She called for an investigation into the use of force against unarmed protesters, who she said were there to follow up on the result of something they hoped for but who were instead met with violence.

Protesters were seen using either milk or water mixed with antacid to wash their faces after getting hit with tear gas.

Earlier in the day, there was also a demonstration by a crowd in yellow shirts, who opposed the draft of the constitutional amendments proposed by iLaw, as well as another demonstration by the Thai Phakdi group.

The protest ended at around 21.00. According to the Erawan Emergency Medical Centre, 55 people were injured during the protest, with five people being treated for gunshot wounds.

What was going on in parliament?

From left: Chiranuch Premchaiporn, Jon Ungphakorn, and Yingcheep Atchanon, as they wait to speak before parliament on 17 November as representatives of the team behind the iLaw constitutional amendments, now known as the "people's draft." (Picture from iLaw)

Parliament discussed 7 draft constitutional amendments, 1 from the government coalition, 5 from the opposition coalition and 1 proposed by iLaw, a legal watchdog NGO, endorsed by 98,041 voters.

None of the drafts were passed on 17 Nov.

Among all the drafts, the iLaw version is the most detailed. Its intention is to uproot the legacy of the military government since they overthrew the government in 2014.

Here is a brief summary of the 7 drafts:

  1. The government coalition draft amends Section 256 to allow a constitutional drafting committee consisting of 200 members; 150 members to be elected and the other 50 to be appointed from a group of legal experts, academic experts, political experts and students.
  2. A draft from the opposition coalition excluding the Move Forward Party, also amends Section 256. It differs from the government coalition version in the selection of the drafting committee, which will be entirely elected and with provinces constituting electoral districts.
  3. The iLaw version establishes an all-elected constitutional drafting committee, using the whole country as an electoral district. It disqualifies senators, members of independent organizations and others appointed by the military government. It abolishes the provision allowing an unelected PM, the amnesty that the military government awarded to itself, the voting system where one ballot is counted for both constituency and party-list MPs, and the 20-year National Strategy.
  4. A draft from the opposition coalition giving voters 2 ballots, one for the constituency MP and one for the party list.
  5. A draft from the opposition coalition amending Section 159 and abolishing Section 272 to remove the authority of the appointed senate to participate in the vote for PM.
  6. A draft from the opposition coalition abolishing Sections 270 and 271 to remove the authority of senate to monitor and regulate the 20-year National Strategy.
  7. A draft from the opposition coalition abolishing Section 279 which legitimizes the military self-amnesty and all orders announced or endorsed by the junta leader, Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha.

The amendment process under the 2017 constitution is more difficult and complicated than in the 2007 and 1997 versions. In the past, a mere majority vote in parliament was needed, with no condition requiring approval by a minimum number of senators or opposition party MPs. Amendments are not restricted to any specific section. Changing the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State or changing the form of the State is prohibited in all constitutions mentioned.

The proposed amendments will go through 3 readings

The first reading for the acceptance of principle shall be by roll call and open voting and must be supported by no less than half of the total number of members in both houses (375 votes), and no less than one third of senators.

The second reading considers the draft constitutional amendment section by section. Approval is by a majority of 376 votes from among both MPs and senators. If the draft under consideration is proposed by the people, the public is also free to express their opinions.

There will be an interval of 15 days before the third reading. Approval in the third reading requires the votes of more than half of the members of both houses combined, which is not less than 375 votes, including one-third of senators, and 20% of the combined MPs from all parties with no representatives among the President, Vice Presidents or Ministers.

After a successful third reading, there will be an interval of 15 days before the PM presents the draft of the constitutional amendment to the King for his signature. However, there will be a national referendum before this 15-day period if any of the following matters are amended:

  • Chapter 1: General Provisions
  • Chapter 2: The King
  • Chapter 15: Amendment to the Constitution
  • Any matter relating to the qualifications and prohibitions of persons holding positions under the Constitution
  • Any matter relating to the duties or powers of the Court or any Independent Organization
  • Any matter which renders the Court or any Independent Organization unable to act in accordance with its duties or powers.

Any amendment can be challenged in the Constitutional Court triggered by a petition by a group of MPs and Senators comprising 10% of the members of both houses.  The Constitutional Court has 30 days to deliver its verdict.

Section 15 of the Constitution does not set any time limit for the King to sign any amendment which successfully passes parliament.

Any amendment therefore can be blocked by 2/3 of the military-appointed senate, or by a ruling of the Constitutional Court whose appointed members are approved by a secret vote of the Senate.

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Categories: Prachatai English

Protesters turn backs on royal motorcade during demonstration in Bangkok

Prachatai English - Mon, 2020-11-16 13:26
Submitted on Mon, 16 Nov 2020 - 01:26 PMPrachatai

Thousands of protesters gathering at the Democracy Monument turned their backs on a royal motorcade passing Ratchadamnoen Avenue during a demonstration on Saturday afternoon (14 November), where people gave speeches on various social issues and called for constitutional amendments.  

A large piece of white cloth was placed by the Democracy Monument for people to write their messages. 

The protest, titled “Mob Fest,” took over one side of Ratchadamnoen Road between the Khok Wua Intersection and the Phan Fa Intersection. Various activist groups and civil society organisations set up tables and small stages to speak about different social issues, from gender equality to sex worker rights, human rights violations in prisons, abuse in schools, and state violence.

At 14.00, the high school student activist group Bad Student marched from the Ministry of Education to demand the resignation of Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan, who they said lacks the qualifications for his position and has so far ignored the students’ demands. They also carried a large piece of white cloth, which was later placed by the Democracy Monument for people to write down their wishes for the country’s future.

There were reports that the authorities had deployed an all-women unit of crowd control police during the march, and that the officers were lining up and walking alongside the protesters, as well as reports of water cannon trucks parked by the Ministry of Education and plainclothes officers taking pictures of protesters.

At 14.40, the group arrived at the Democracy Monument, where another group of protesters was already setting up for the event.

Police officers lined up in the middle of Ratchadamnoen Avenue, separating protesters from a crowd of men in yellow shirts, crowd control police, and plainclothes officers who arrived on the other side of the road ahead of King Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida’s motorcade, which was scheduled to pass through the area at around 17.00.

Protesters turning their back and holding their hands up in the three-finger 'Hunger Games' salute as the royal motorcade pass through Ratchadamneon Road.

At 16.20, representatives of the organizers on a truck parked by the Democracy Monument announced to the protesters that a royal motorcade will be passing by the protest and asked the protesters to stay calm and to turn their backs and hold their hands up in the three-finger ‘Hunger Games’ salute as the motorcade passed by. The announcement was repeated again at 17.25, while leaders of the Bad Student group asked the crowd around their truck to make sure that no one was holding up signs with inappropriate messages.

At 17.30, the royal motorcade drove by the Democracy Monument and along Ratchadamnoen Avenue. The protesters then turned their backs to the motorcade and held their hands up in the three-finger salute as asked, as the national anthem was played from the speakers on the truck.

After the motorcade has passed, they shouted “the nation is the people” and “Down with feudalism. Long live the people.” A group of protesters in front of the Satriwithaya School also shouted “People died here. Volunteers were shot dead at Wat Pathum.”

Protesters singing the national anthem while doing the three-finger salute as the royal motorcade pass by behind them. 

At around 18.06, leaders of the Bad Student group announced that they will be taking back the Democracy Monument for the people. They then asked the protest guards and other protesters to help move the metal railing around the monument. Police officers lined up around the monument did not resist.

A small group then scaled the monument to wrap the white cloth, now covered in messages from protesters, around the monument, while a Thai version of “Do You Hear the People Sing?” played from a nearby truck and protesters around the base of the monument turned on the flash lights on their mobile phones.

A small group of volunteers climbed the Democracy Monument and wrapped it in the piece of white cloth covered in messages from protesters. 

During the protest, representatives of various groups took turns giving speeches on various social and political issues on both stages, with performances from several bands in-between the speeches. The Women for Freedom and Democracy Group, which announced during the protest that the group’s name is being changed to Feminists for Freedom and Democracy, also set up a stage by the Democracy Monument, where speakers gave speeches on gender-based violence, LGBTQ rights, and abortion rights.

The Women for Freedom and Democracy group, which has changed its name to Feminists for Freedom and Democracy, gave a performance of the Thai version of the Chilean feminist anthem "A Rapist in Your Path" during the protest on Saturday.

The People’s Right Party also read a statement calling for the establishment of a Constitution Drafting Assembly of Thailand, in order for the new constitution to be drafted through a democratic mechanism with the participation of every sector of the society.

The group made six demands:

  1. The Constitution Drafting Assembly of Thailand shall draft a constitution in accordance with human rights and democratic principles.
  2. The Constitution Drafting Assembly of Thailand shall have the power to draft and amend all sections and provisions of the Constitution.
  3. The Constitution Drafting Assembly of Thailand must consist of members directly elected by the people.
  4. Candidates of the Constitution Drafting Assembly of Thailand shall not be restricted by age, gender, education, religion, status, criminal record, political rights, and political views.
  5. Candidates for the Constitution Drafting Assembly of Thailand must publicly declare the policies of the draft and perform their duties strictly in accordance with their policies without any interference or conflicts of interest, including a five-year ban on holding a political position after the draft constitution comes into effect.
  6. Information, records, reports, progress, and details of the drafting process must be made public. Hence, peoples' voices in the drafting process must be heard thoroughly.

The protest concluded at around 1.30, when protesters took down the cloth wrapped around the Democracy Monument. 

The 7 proposed drafts of constitutional amendments, including the version referred to as ‘the people’s draft,’ which was proposed by iLaw and co-signed by over 100,000 members of the public, are scheduled to go before parliament on Tuesday (17 November).

The iLaw draft proposes to amend Chapters 1 (General Provisions) and 2 (the Monarchy) of the constitution, which may open the way to monarchy reform. 

The student activist group Free Youth has announced on their Facebook page that there will be a protest at the parliament building from 15.00 onwards on Tuesday until parliament accepts the draft of the constitutional amendment proposed by the people. 

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Categories: Prachatai English

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