Interviews by Yiamyut Sutthichaya and Rattanaporn Khamenkit
Article by Anna Lawattanatrakul
Worawan Sae-aung joining the 13 December 2021 march to Government House to protest against the Chana Industrial Project (Photo by Ginger Cat)
Meet Worawan Sae-aung, an elderly fruit vendor and regular protest-goer, known for her sharp tongue and for being on the frontline of almost every protest in the past year. The Prachatai editorial team has chosen Worawan as our 2021 Person of the Year for her courage in standing up against the authorities and her relentless support of the popular movement which has now grown to include a diversity of social issues, from constitutional amendments and monarchy reform to community rights and the right to bail.
Despite her reputation of being rude, young activists and protest observers, who call her “Auntie Pao,” know her as kind and courageous. For our 2021 Person of the Year report, we spoke to Worawan about why she continues to stand with young people in pro-democracy protests, as well as to young people who know her about the “Auntie” that they know beyond someone who throws curses at police officers. We also speak to academics who have studied the pro-democracy movement on the impact of people like Worawan on the movement.Standing with young people
Worawan confronting police officers during the 14 November 2021 protest in front of the German Embassy in Bangkok
“I am democratic and part of the new generation,” Worawan said of herself when we met near Government House, where she was joining a protest by villagers from Na Bon District in Nakhon Si Thammarat against the construction of 2 biomass powerplant in their community. To her, being part of the new generation is not about one’s age but about being progressive.
Worawan said that she has been joining pro-democracy movements since the 1992 “Black May” protests and the 2008 – 2010 Red Shirt protests. She has been a regular at pro-democracy protests in 2020 – 2021 and said that people are joining protests not only for democracy but also because of the economic decline and reduced quality of life since the 2014 military coup.
She said that after the coup, the NCPO government closed several markets, including those at Khlong Lot and Tha Prachan, without compensating the vendors. When the Sai Tai Market opened, she tried renting a stall, but said that low sales combined with rent and travel costs means she was not able to earn money.
She said she found that the economy has been further worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic, the effects of which are felt by the working class, and she was not able to make enough money to cover costs. The constant dispersal of protests by the police also means that she is not able to make money from setting up stalls at protests.
“When Covid-19 came, they didn’t close 7-Elevens. They didn’t close the malls, but they closed the small shops. Do you think that’s fair?” Worawan asked. “Why is our country not perfect? It’s because you’re not taking care of the poor.”
She also found that state welfare available to senior citizens is not enough. Currently, Thai citizens over 60 years old receive 600 baht per month from the government, but Worawan said that this is not enough even for day-to-day life.
“With 600 baht, it’s 20 baht per day. If one day I have to take a taxi or if one day I get sick, it’s not going to be enough because you have 20 baht per day, and what can I do with that? Each day, you have to spend at least 200 baht, right? And if you have to run errands or go places, a taxi ride would cost more than 100 baht. 300 for a round trip,” she said.
Worawan believes that every citizen should receive basic welfare and be cared for from birth without having to become a civil servant, because everyone pays taxes regardless of their occupation.
“People with rank have their welfare, but we only have 30 baht to see a doctor. It’s not close to the taxes we’ve been paying all our lives. Why do they not take care of the poor?” she asks.
For Worawan, amending the 2017 Constitution is necessary for the country to become fully democratic, which must be done before another election is held to break free of the existing power structure.
Worawan said that she thinks the use of violence against protesters, legal prosecutions, and the imprisonment of protest leaders is intended to cause fear among the protesters, but young people are not afraid, even though their parents are.
“Every parent loves their child and worries about their child. They’d tell their child, don’t do it or you’ll get arrested. This is how Thai people are, but they’re not thinking about what democracy is. It’s our right. It won’t end today. It won’t end this year. It won’t end with just our generation. It has to be us. We have to make everything better, right? We have to keep fighting until it ends,” Worawan said.‘Auntie Pao’ in the eyes of the younger generation
Worawan washing tear gas out of her eyes while attending the 29 September 2021 protest at the Nang Loeng Intersection
67-year-old Worawan confronting police officers was a regular sight at pro-democracy protests in 2021, and many young protesters remember her for being direct, outspoken, or even rude, but in the eyes of younger activists, Worawan is known as a kind ‘aunty’ who cares for others, especially young people who are facing state violence, and as one of the powerless people who chose to stand up against power.
Student activist Wanwalee Thammasattaya said that the public does not see Worawan’s kinder side, as her image in the media often focusses on her throwing profanities at police officers, but Wanwalee knows her as a “Red Shirt auntie” who has been part of the popular movement for a long time, who has a lovely smile and makes her feel safe at protests.
For Wanwalee, the fact that Worawan still has to protest with young people shows that there is still something wrong with the government structure, or that not enough young people have taken to the streets, meaning that people in Worawan’s generation still have to come out to fight for what they demanded decades ago even though they deserve a rest.
Gender equality activist Chumaporn Taengkliang said she first got to know Worawan after they were both arrested when police dispersed protesters occupying Chamai Maruchet bridge on 29 March 2021. She said that while they were detained with other women protesters, Worawan tried to lighten the mood in the room and led them in a yoga session, telling them that this is how she stays healthy. Chumaporn also found that Worawan is caring person and sees her as something of a mother figure.
“Whenever I meet Auntie Pao, if I ask her to curse Prayut (Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha) or the police, she can just immediately go off, but if I tell her ‘Can you give me a hug? I’m tired’, she will comfort me in a way that makes me feel like she is my mother, my aunt, an adult that I respect,” Chumaporn said.
Meanwhile, iLaw photographer Chanakarn Laosarakham said that she initially thought Worawan was scary, but after interviewing and photographing her during protests, she found that Worawan is a kind and funny person who is always smiling for the camera and who likes to dance during protests.
“Auntie Pao is a representative of the older generation who connects with the younger generation, and she’ll become a story for the next generation of pro-democracy activists,” Chanakarn said.Fighting with one’s body
Worawan is known for being one of the most outspoken participants at pro-democracy protests over the past two years, often confronting police officers and giving profanity-filled speeches. Worawan became popular after a footage of her slapping a police officer’s crotch during the 16 January 2021 protest at the Victory Monument went viral.
But perhaps one of Worawan’s most iconic actions during protests was when she completely stripped in front of a line of crowd control police at a protest on 28 September 2021 to protest the use of violence to disperse of the protest.
Worawan stripping in front of a line of crowd control police to protest the use of violence to disperse of the protest (Photo by Thikamporn Tamtiang)
“I thought I’d do it for the kids for once, because otherwise they’ll get hurt. ‘All I have is my pussy and my life, what do you want’, I said. ‘Fuck you, you’re harassing the people’, I told [the police],” Worawan said about stripping in front of the police line, which she said was worth it if it could distract the police from arresting or beating up protesters, and that she was not embarrassed.
“Are you not worried about them? One of their lives is worth just as much as ours. If they get beaten, they get hurt, because these guys won’t let them go, I’m afraid that would happen to the kids, and they’ll get charged, get arrested, even though we did nothing wrong,” she said. “We came out to protest, but you fuckers never gave us anything but tear gas and rubber bullets and water cannons. Do you think that’s right?”
For her behaviour during the 28 September 2021 protest, Worawan was charged with violation of the Emergency Decree and committing a shameful act by indecently exposing her person under Section 388 of the Thai Criminal Code.
Noraset Nanongtoom from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) who is responsible Worawan’s cases, said that Worawan stripping naked in front of the police line is one of the most peaceful ways of protest possible and should be protected as a constitutional right, instead of being treated as a crime. To him, it is not a shameful or sexual act, as it is her way of showing that the people are not armed and have nothing but their bodies, and the police must stop using violence against them.
Noraset said that Section 388 of the Thai Criminal Code does not say whether public nudity is a crime when committed by a man or a woman, or how much nudity is considered shameful, but he believes that law enforcement and the society’s understanding of the law leads to differences in how the law is used. He speculated that, if a man takes off his shirt to protest, he will not be charged, but if a woman does the same thing, she might be charged, which, to him, is not how the law should be enforced.
“If we are going to enforce the justice of the law, our humanity should be equal. It shouldn’t be that if one gender does it, and gets charged, but if another gender does it, it doesn’t get charged. That’s not how it should be,” he said.
iLaw photographer Chanakarn Laosarakham said this is her favourite picture of Worawan among those she has taken, and that it has been compared to Eugène Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People
Meanwhile, Wanwalee said that Worawan’s action reminds her of the Red Shirt protests, when protesters were often accused of carrying weapons. She said that the only thing that could prove to the state that protesters are unarmed is to strip naked, something which has also been done by Red Shirt protesters, but the society still sees nakedness as shameful. She also sees being naked as an exercise of bodily autonomy, and said that Worawan’s stripping does not violate anyone’s right.
“Since I was a child, there is a norm instilled in you to protect your purity, or teaches you the values that [women] must not do this. This is wrong. This is shameful. But one day, Auntie Pao destroyed all of those beliefs,” Wanwalee said.
Chumaporn said that Worawan’s actions raised awareness about nakedness as an act of protest and about the right to one’s own body. She also said that Worawan using her own body as a means of expression is something very feminist, since she does not yield to gender-based injustice and uses her own body to free herself from oppression.
“I feel that Auntie Pao has a very clear understanding of the right to our own bodies, so when she is going to strip, when she is going to spread her legs, when she is going to lift her skirt, she speaks about her body used to resist,” Chumaporn said.Power of the powerless
For Kanokrat Lertchoosakul, lecturer at the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, Worawan’s participation in the protest is a reflection of how different generations came together in the 2020 – 2021 pro-democracy movement and represents people who are not protest leaders but act on their own and have a very strong effect.
She is reminded of people like Hai Khanjanta, an old woman from Ubon Ratchathani who fought for the return of her lands which were submerged by the Huai Laha Dam but was never a leader of the anti-dam protests, or Charoen Wat-aksorn, who protested against the construction of a coal-fired power plant on public land in Prachuap Khiri Khan and was murdered in 2004.
“I think of people like these. Ordinary people who are not protest leaders and who act on an ordinary level, but they caused such strong ripples at a very high level in terms of their image in the media and as a force that makes the state itself do something,” she said.
Kanokrat sees Worawan’s part in the current pro-democracy movement as a reflection of how former Red Shirt protesters are joining in with young people and working to support them. She observed that, in the early days of the 2020 – 2021 pro-democracy movement, former Red Shirt protesters were concerned that their presence would harm the student movement and were only supporting the protesters from afar.
But after the 16 October 2020 crackdown on the protest at Pathumwan intersection, Red Shirt protesters became more visible at pro-democracy protests, often setting up their own stage. From her research, Kanokrat found that young protesters felt supported by the presence of Red Shirt protesters, seeing them as one of the very few groups of adults who are on their side and felt thankful for these ‘uncles and aunties’ who stand with them.
“The existence of Red Shirt aunties and uncles or people like Auntie Pao is a very important force that makes young people feel like they have not been abandoned by adults in society. So if we are assessing whether Auntie Pao’s existence is beneficial to the young people’s movement, I have to say that she is not directly beneficial to their movement, but is a support both in terms of encouragement and in terms of support action, as a reserve, as a backup for young people, especially lately when the young people’s movement is getting tired and are taking a break” Kanokrat said.
Meanwhile, Prajak Kongkirati, lecturer at the Faculty of Political Science, Thammasat University, said that Worawan’s actions, including using nudity as an act of protest, is a classic nonviolent method, which would also expose the injustice committed by state officials against the people. He said that such actions may not change the authorities’ minds, but would change other people’s minds as they come to see how the state’s action is unjust.
“This is the most important thing. If all society can change their minds, it will be a lasting victory,” Prajak said.
Prajak sees Worawan’s presence as representative of the diversity within the pro-democracy movement and the space it gives for individuals to act on their own. He observed that the mainstream media is no longer solely responsible for reporting the protests, as protesters are also creating their own media and giving exposure to people and issues they find important, which also makes it more difficult for the media to paint protesters as villains and legitimize the state’s use of violence.
Prajak also sees the popularity of Worawan’s profanity-filled speeches as representative of the people’s anger at state violence, which mean that many people feel that her speeches are relatable because they also feel the same way. He said that people may be rude, but they are rude because they are fed up with the state’s abuse of power, which is understandable considering the current lack of rule of law and the violence committed against the people.
“Of course, the people may be rude, but the profanities came from a long-standing frustration. I think that if you look at the speeches and separate each word from the context, you won’t get it. And you accuse people of being rude, or Auntie Pao of being rude, or ask why student leaders or young people are rude. You have to look at these words in their context, look at the power the state has used against the people since the 2014 coup and whether they have ever shown any respect to the people,” he said.
“Power has been used rudely for the past 7 – 8 years. The law has been distorted. State officials use their power without respect for the law or regulations. They fire rubber bullets if they want. They do whatever they want. There are no rules anymore. People using profanities, actually they have nothing to fight with. The people have no weapons in their hands. The most they can do is curse at you, but they have no rubber bullets, no tear gas. That’s all Auntie Pao can do, because she is frustrated, because there is nothing she can do.”
Worawan attending a protest on 3 October 2021 at the 14 October 1973 Memorial on Ratchadamnoen Avenue (Photo by Ginger Cat).
Kanokrat speculated that Worawan’s popularity could be because she is an ordinary person who come to protests and acts independently, and because she is unafraid and creative in a way that is similar to methods used by young protesters. Kanokrat also observed that Worawan’s profanity-filled speeches make her relatable to angry young people who feel that they have already tried to speak politely to adults but are not being listened to and must try other forms of language to get the media’s attention.
“What Auntie Pao does could be the kind of language she normally uses, but when she uses a tool like this in a public space, it creates a feeling of solidarity with young people. So new media see Auntie Pao as different from other adults,” Kanokrat said.
For Kanokrat, Worawan is one of the very few adults who still stand by young people during a time when it seems like the youth-led movement is losing momentum.
“In this light, I think that Auntie Pao being chosen as Person of the Year is not about Auntie Pao as an individual, but it is telling adults that this is an example of an adult who understands young people and is standing alongside them and trying to encourage them in the middle of their hopelessness,” Kanokrat said.
Prachatai's Person of the Year is chosen by votes from our editorial team. Other candidates for 2021 included:
1. Student activist Parit Chiwarak, for his leading role in the student-led protests and advocacy of monarchy reform. Parit is currently detained pending trial on royal defamation charges and is also known for going on a hunger strike earlier in 2021 to protest the denial of bail for detained activists.
2. The monarchy reform movement, as a popular movement consisting of not only activists but also ordinary people who have the courage to speak about a subject long considered taboo in Thailand and continue to stand for their cause despite legal prosecution and violence.
3. Thalugaz, a group of protesters who gathered at the Din Daeng Intersection every night from August - November 2021, as an unprecedented movement in terms of their retaliation against violence from the police and the direction of their movement. At least 498 people have been arrested for joining the Din Daeng protests.
4. Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, as a network of lawyers and activists which formed after the 2014 military coup to assist those whose right has been violated and continue to assist protesters who are being prosecuted for their political expression.FeaturePerson of the yearWorawan Sae-aungAuntie Paored shirtpro-democracy protest 2021Student movement 2020
Student activist Benja Apan was granted bail today (14 December) by the South Bangkok Criminal Court after spending 99 days in prison and having been previously repeatedly denied bail.
Benja has been detained pending trial since October 2021 on royal defamation charges relating to the protest in front of the German Embassy in Bangkok on 26 October 2020 and the 10 August 2021 protest, during which she red out the second United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration Declaration, stating that the 2014 coup led by Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha has led to a regime which benefited only the elite. The statement also criticised the government’s mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic and called for the government to properly handle the pandemic, revitalise the economy, repeal the 2017 Constitution which allows the junta government to prolong its stay in power, push forward reforms in state structures and the monarchy, and also return to the people their dignity.
Benja was arrested on 7 October 2021 after she went to meet the inquiry officer at Lumpini Police Station to hear a charge of violating the Emergency Decree for participating in the 3 September protest at the Ratchaprasong intersection. The police then found that there was an outstanding arrest warrant issued against her on a royal defamation charge under Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code, as well as charges for violations of the Emergency Decree and the Communicable Diseases Act, for participating in the 10 August 2021 protest. However, she did not receive a summons before being arrested. She was taken to court on 8 October 2021 and was denied bail.
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said that Benja’s lawyer requested bail for her yesterday (13 January) on the grounds that Benja is currently a student at the Sirindhorn International Institute of Technology (SIIT), Thammasat University, and is enrolled in three classes for the current semester. She is therefore required to attend classes, complete class projects, and take examinations, and since her engineering degree requires several practical classes, she will not be able to take classes while in prison. For example, she is enrolled in a solid mechanics class, which is compulsory for her mechanical engineering programme and requires 15 hours of practical training.
The request stated that Benja may not be able to graduate if she continues to be detained, which would severely affect her future and her right to education. The request also said that the court should consider the defendant’s rights and freedoms when considering a bail request and should not excessively restrict these.
Benja was also granted bail yesterday (13 January) on a contempt of court charge relating to a protest at the Ratchadapisek Criminal Court on 29 April 2021 to demand the release of activists being detained pending trial, for which she was sentenced to 6 months in prison. The Criminal Court required a security of 50,000 baht but did not set any additional conditions.
The South Bangkok Criminal Court set the conditions that Benja must not participate in activities that could damage the monarchy or cause disorder in society. She is also prohibited from leaving the country and from leaving her residence between 18.00 – 6.00. She must also an electronic monitoring bracelet. The conditions set for Benja are the same as those set for student activist Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, whose bail period was extended yesterday (13 January) until 25 May 2022.
The Court appointed Adisorn Juntrasook, lecturer from the Faculty of Learning Sciences and Education, Thammasat University, as Benja’s supervisor, and required a security of 100,000 baht per charge. TLHR said that, since Benja has no other outstanding arrest warrant, she will be released from the Central Women Correctional Institution this evening (14 December).NewsBenja ApanThammasat UniversityUnited Front of Thammasat and Demonstration (UFTD)Royal defamationlese majesteSection 112right to bailstudent activistpro-democracy protests 2021Student protest 2020arbitrary detentionPresumption of innocence
Two student activists were arrested this morning (14 January) while holding banners near the Chiang Mai University (CMU) auditorium calling for graduates to boycott the graduation ceremony, presided over by Princess Sirindhorn, and for the repeal of Section 112.
Phimchanok and Yotsunthon being taken to San Kamphaeng Police Station in a detention truck, accompanied by their lawyers
CMU student activist Yotsunthon Ruttapradid and Phimchanok Jaihong, member of the activist group Thalufah, were arrested this morning (14 January) by plainclothes and uniformed police officers while standing on the foothpath opposite the university auditoriam, where a graduation ceremony was being held. They were reported to be holding banners saying “Repeal Section 112” and “Feudal degrees” in a campaign for the repeal of the royal defamation law and to call on graduates to boycott the ceremony, presided over by Princess Sirindhorn, the King’s younger sister.
Yotsunthon and Phimchanok explained to the officers who came to tell them to stop their activity that they are calling for graduates to boycott the graduation ceremony, as they see it as a ritual which reinforces inequality.
They were initially taken to Phuping Rajanivej Police Station, but later to San Kamphaeng Police Station. Activists from the student activist group Community of MorChor followed them and were told by officers that they were ordered to move the activists since officers from Phuping Rajanivej Police Station had to return to the campus to prepare for Princess Sirindhorn’s royal motorcade.
The activists were charged with creating a noise without a reasonable cause and refusing to comply with an official’s order. They received a 1500 baht fine and were released. Officers reportedly said that they were able to charge the activists with causing noise while on campus because the campus was considered royal space during the ceremony.
Scratches on Phimchanok's arm
iLaw reported that, during the arrest, police officers searched Phimchanok’s bags. She was heard telling officers not to touch her, while Yotsunthon was put in handcuffs. Phimchanok said that she was dragged into a vehicle by a woman officer, who also tried to snatch her mobile phone out her hand, scratching her arm in the process. They were also not told what charges they faced.
While the activists are being held at San Kamphaeng Police Station, the CMU Student Union posted a statement on their Facebook page condemning the police action as a violation of the people’s freedom and an abuse of power. It also called on the University’s President to assist the detained students.
The banners saying "Feudal degrees" and "Repeal Section 112" the activists were holding when they were arrested
Thai graduation ceremonies are often long, complicated, and strictly regulated as they are presided over by a member of the royal family, and following the start of the 2020 – 2021 pro-democracy protests, graduation ceremonies have become a platform for young people to express their discontent at the status quo. Many graduates see boycotting the ceremonies as an act of civil disobedience, while activists are reported to have staged small activities at their universities’ graduation events.
On Tuesday (11 January), the CMU Student Union announced that its representatives would not receive Princess Sirindhorn when she arrived for the ceremony and that it will not receive any member of the royal family at any graduation ceremony which takes place during the current committee’s term in order to uphold equality. It also called on graduates to boycott the ceremony and to instead receive their degree certificate from people who support them during the university years, saying that the focus of the ceremony is often not congratulating the graduates but about being able to take photos with a member of the royal family, while those who supported the graduates, such as their parents, partners, and lecturers, are excluded.
The CMU Student Union also conducted a poll yesterday (13 January) on who graduates want to receive their degree certificate from. Union members walked around campus carrying a large piece of cardboard divided into five columns labelled “parents,” “friends,” “partners,” “lecturers,” and “royal family.” Graduates were invited to place stickers in the column corresponding to the people they would prefer to receive their certificate from. According iLaw, only 2 people voted for the royal family, while 21 people voted to receive their degree from their lecturers. 19 people said they want to receive their degree from their parents, 16 people said their friends, and 13 people said their partners.NewsChiang Mai UniversityGraduation ceremonyMonarchy reformYotsunthon RuttapradidPhimchanok Jaihongjudicial harassmentarbitrary arrestfreedom of expressionThalufah
It has been 2 months since Auttasit Nussa and Weeraphab Wongsaman filed a complaint against police at the Din Daeng Police Station for beating them while in custody. The incident allegedly occurred on 29 October 2021. Thus far, there has been little progress in the investigation, however.
Auttasit and his wounds.
According to the Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF), Auttasit filed a complaint with the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) and later returned there on 12 January with a CrCF lawyer to give testimony. Weeraphab’s testimony has been postponed until 21 January due to his own inconvenience.
Auttasit was asked to give information to a sub-committee consisting representatives from the Institute of Forensic Medicine; the Rights and Liberties Protection Department, and the DSI, a complex process that according to CrCF has delayed the investigation.
Despite repeated requests, police have not provided Auttasit with CCTV footage from the evening or the results of medical check-up he was given before being released. The officers he accuses of beating him remained on duty and there is no indication that an internal disciplinary investigation committee has been established.
Auttasit and his lawyer asked the sub-committee to hasten the gathering of witness testimony and evidence. They also asked that Auttasit be allowed to return to the police station to reenact the crime and name the officers involved.
In addition, they called upon the DSI to take up Auttasit’s case as a special investigation case as soon as possible.
Auttasit and Weeraphab were injured while attending a candle vigil held for Warit Somnoi, a youth shot by an unidentified party in front of Din Daeng police station on the night of 16 August 2021 after a protest at a nearby Din Daeng Intersection was dispersed.
The candle vigil was dispersed by the police. Police allegedly beat and threatened the protesters before subjecting them to a regular interrogation process after their arrest.
Auttasit says that he was taken inside the police station along with another protester. There, he claims he was beaten by police who sought information that he did not know. They reportedly told him that if he died during the beatings, they would make his death look like an accident.NewsCross Cultural Foundation (CrCF)Auttasit NussaWeeraphab WongsamanDin Daeng Intersectionpro-democracy protest 2022
The leader of the Progressive Movement has said that he will take legal action against right-wing media and government agencies for violating his data privacy and spreading misinformation over his vaccination status and personal travel.
Talking of what they call “VIP vaccination,” right wing media outlets claim that Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit jumped the queue for vaccines at the expense of the elderly. They also claimed that he accepted AstraZeneca shots despite his criticisms of the “royal vaccine.”
Pannika Wanich, spokesperson of the Progressive Movement, said on 10 January that the government had set 7 June 2021 as the vaccination D-Day for people above 18 years old in high-risk areas including Bangkok and nearby provinces.
Thanathorn had his vaccination on 1 July, followed by Pannika herself on 3 July, she said. She also cited data from the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Innovation on 15 July that 50% of vaccinated people were in high-risk areas, followed by the elderly (20%) and the 7 at-risk groups (7%).
The data also said that 45% in Bangkok had been vaccinated by that date. In Samut Prakan, where Thanathorn received his shot, the vaccinated population was 24%. Therefore, Thanathorn was a part of the large group who were vaccinated in the area, said Pannika.
Debunking the right wing’s claim that Thanathorn was a hypocrite, Pannika said that accepting an AstraZeneca vaccine did not contradict his call for diversification of vaccine supplies. Thanathorn also campaigned for people to get vaccinated, together with Move Forward Party MPs.
The Progressive Movement’s spokesperson also claimed that the misinformation about Thanathorn was made possible with the help of government agencies. Thanathorn’s vaccination records on the Mor Prom application were leaked for political purposes.
The travel records of Thanathorn and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, Secretary-General of the Progressive Movement, were also publicized by the Immigration Bureau. She asked whether it was okay for the government to spend resources on fabricating stories while the country was still in all kinds of problems.
At the end of the year, a right-wing outlet displayed a photo of Thanathorn’s passport and claimed that he was going to the Netherlands with his family, implying that he was fleeing punishment for his alleged crimes as protest leaders were detained.“I always try to be patient”
On 11 January, Thanathorn announced his legal action on Facebook, saying “I always try to be patient with attempts to smear me and destroy my credibility and reputation by a certain group of people who support the conservative dictatorship network.”
However, because the claims are not true and the group in question has been inciting public hatred against not only him but also human rights defenders, he decided to take legal action against the group and the government agencies involved.
In a link attached in his post, Top News, a right-wing media outlet which itself helped spread the misinformation, interviewed the hospital’s director, who Thanathorn never knew and was never in contact with. The director said that the entire process went as normal.
Thanathorn said that he went to receive a jab at night after there were vaccines left over from the day’s vaccination programme. In his defence, he called for diversification of vaccine supplies, saying that “betting on only one horse” would put the country at risk and he did not want any particular vaccine.
Last year, Thanathorn was charged with lèse majesté after he criticized on Facebook Live the government’s overreliance on the “royal” vaccine (i.e. AstraZeneca produced under licence by royally-owned Siam Bioscience). With court-approved bail, he has not been detained.
On 3 January this year, Thanathorn announced that he was infected with Covid-19 and was put under quarantine in compliance with government policy. He said that he was still healthy and thanked everyone for their support.Privacy violations
Anutin Charnvirakul, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health, said on 12 January that Thanathorn came to receive his vaccination as scheduled and that there was nothing unusual. He also said he was very pleased to hear that Thanathorn had been vaccinated, and encouraged all citizens to do the same.
“Regarding VIP vaccination, the Ministry’s policy under my watch is to treat people everywhere and everyone is a VIP, meaning that every citizen is a VIP,” said Anutin.
Anutin said he had heard that Thanathorn was infected with Covid-19. While he was not sure whether Thanathorn has taken a booster, Anutin said that the Ministry was always ready to be of service.
However, the Minister denied an accusation that the Ministry had leaked Thanathorn’s personal information. He claimed that such information was not secret in the first place, and anyone can look it up by inputting a person’s ID number into the Mor Prom application.
In response, Move Forward Party MP Wayo Assawarungruang said he was shocked that the Minister of Public Health did not understand the significance and legal implications of this violation of personal privacy.
“These days, personal data is a very valuable asset, because it can be used for analysis and many kinds of predictions. Many countries that are aware of this. I believe that it is also a question of personal security,” said Wayo.
Wayo said that it was a shame that Personal Data and Privacy Act was still not enforced in Thailand. But the Minister may have violated Section 7 of the 2007 National Health Act which says “Personal health information shall be kept confidential. No person shall disclose it in such a manner as to cause damage to him or her unless it is done according to his or her will, or is required by a specific law to do so.”
Wayo also said that the Minister may have violated Section 323 of the Criminal Code which says that any medical, religious, legal or financial professional who “discloses such private secret in a manner likely to cause injury to any person, shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding six months or fined not exceeding one thousand Baht, or both.”
He concluded that this was a question about the personal information of not just a politician but the personal information of all people throughout the country. He suggested that it may be possible to file a complaint with the Administrative Court to bring about changes in how data is collected in the Mor Prom application.
“This may be not only negligence, but a violation of the law. And this issue also is guaranteed in Section 32 of the 2017 Constitution which states that ‘a person shall enjoy the rights of privacy, dignity, reputation and family,” said Wayo.NewsThanathorn Juangroongruangkit
The South Bangkok Criminal Court has extended student activist Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul’s bail period until 25 May 2022.
Panusaya was previously granted bail on 30 November 2021, after spending 17 days in detention pending trial on 4 defamation charges filed with three different courts. The South Bangkok Criminal Court, the Ratchadapisek Criminal Court, and the Ayutthaya Provincial Court granted her bail until 12 January 2021 to allow her to take her final examinations and complete class projects.
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said that the South Bangkok Criminal Court ruled on Wednesday (12 January) to extend her bail period until 25 May 2022, the last day of final examinations for the second semester of Academic Year 2021 at Thammasat University.
The Court also set Panusaya the conditions that she must not participate in activities that are damaging to the monarchy or cause public disorder and must not leave the country. She must also wear an electronic monitoring bracelet and is not allowed to leave her residence between 18.00 – 6.00.
The Ratchadapisek Criminal Court granted her bail yesterday (13 January) until 15 June 2022. The Court does not require her to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet or set her a curfew, but set the condition that she must not participate in activities which are damaging to the monarchy or the court.
The Ayutthaya Provincial Court also granted her bail yesterday (13 January) without setting a time limit, but set the conditions that she must not participate in activities that are damaging to the monarchy or cause public disorder and must not leave the country.
After the South Bangkok Criminal Court issued its ruling on Wednesday (12 January), Panusaya told TLHR that she was surprised that the court granted her bail.
She said that while the 18.00 curfew is not so much of a problem while classes are still online, it might be difficult when students return to on-site classes, as students not only go to campus for classes but also have group projects and other campus activities. Requiring her to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet and prohibiting her from joining activities that can affect the monarchy or cause public disorder should be enough, Panusaya said, noting that she found the court’s conditions to be a violation of her freedom.
Panusaya said that having to spend the past 42 days inside her dorm room caused her a lot of stress to the point that she felt she needed to see a psychiatrist. Her living expenses also increased, since she has to order food through delivery services.
She said that although having to be at home at all times is better than being in prison because she can still use social media to contact other people, the court should no longer set conditions and should grant bail to all political prisoners, since they have not been found guilty and what they have done is within their rights.
Panusaya hopes that her fellow activists, such as Parit Chiwarak and Benja Apan, will also be granted bail, as both are also still enrolled at Thammasat University.
TLHR said yesterday (13 December) that lawyers have filed a bail request for Benja. A hearing is scheduled this afternoon (14 December) in which the South Bangkok Criminal Court will rule whether it will grant her bail.
Meanwhile, Parit announced on 27 December 2021, along with three other detained activists, via their lawyer Krisadang Nutcharus that they will no longer request bail as a protest against the denial of bail for detained activists, and the unfair justice system.NewsPanusaya Sithijirawattanakulstudent activistright to bailPersumption of innocencelese majesteRoyal defamationSection 112judicial harassment
The Chiang Mai University (CMU) Student Union announced on Tuesday (11 January) that its representatives will not receive members of the royal family at the university’s graduation ceremonies during the current committee’s term in order to uphold equality.
The announcement was made via the CMU Student Union Policy Team’s Facebook page on Tuesday (11 January), a few days ahead of the graduation ceremony for the classes of 2019 and 2020, which will be held this Friday (14 January) presided over by Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.
The Student Union said that it will not send representatives to receive Princess Sirindhorn as she arrives for the ceremony, and that it will not receive any member of the royal family at any graduation ceremony which takes place during the current committee’s term, as receiving members of the royal family would show support for “feudalism” and because they see the reception ceremony as a form of oppression and inequality. It also calls on other faculty unions to boycott the reception ceremony.
The union said that such reception ceremonies often require students and university staff to join to show their respect, both voluntarily or by coercion using conditions many may find difficult to refuse. It therefore sees the ceremony as oppressive, outdated, and a way of normalizing inequality. Boycotting the ceremony would therefore be a way of upholding equality and human rights.
Thai graduation ceremonies are often long, complicated, and strictly regulated as they are presided over by a member of the royal family. Student representatives at many universities are required to wait to receive the member of the royal family arriving to preside over the ceremony. Universities also impose strict dress codes on graduates, specifying even hair colour and nail polish colour, while many transgender students face obstacles in getting permission from university administrations to dress according to their gender identity. Attending the ceremony also costs graduates and their families a large sum of money, including the cost of the graduation gown, hiring a photographer, and travel costs for those who live in distant provinces.
Following the start of the 2020 – 2021 pro-democracy protests, graduation ceremonies have become a platform for young people to express their discontent at the status quo. Many graduates see boycotting the ceremonies as an act of civil disobedience, while activists arereported to have staged small activities at their universities’ graduation events.
During a protest on 8 August 2020, Chulalongkorn University graduate Aomtip “Alice” Kerdplanant launched a campaign calling for new graduates to boycott the graduation ceremony and to have their diplomas presented by those who have been involved in their education. She saw the action as a way of showing support for the pro-democracy movement’s demands, especially the call for monarchy reform, and to send a message directly to the royal family.
During Thammasat University’s graduation ceremony for the class of 2018, held on 30 – 31 October 2020, a group of student activists organized a campaign calling for graduates to not attend the ceremony. They gave out roses to graduates presenting their tuition fee receipts, distributed stickers and mock diplomas designed by the artists’ network Free Art, and set up cardboard cutouts of pro-democracy academics such as Pavin Chachavalpongpun and Somsak Jeamteerasakul and historical Thammasat luminaries like Puey Ungphakorn and Pridi Banomyong posing as if they were giving out diplomas for people to take pictures with. A representative of the group described the event as an act of civil disobedience and a way of demanding monarchy reform.
Khon Kaen University students and graduates hung up a "Free our friends" banner during the university’s graduation ceremony. A graduate also burned a graduation gown as an act of protest.
On 13 December 2021, a group of student activists from Khon Kaen University hung banners saying “Repeal Section 112” and “Free our friends” during the university’s graduation ceremony to demand the release of detained activists. They also gave speeches criticizing the university and its Faculty of Law for not taking action when its students were detained on political charges.
Student activist Sarayut Narkmanee gave a speech saying that for the 2021 ceremony, which was presided over by Princess Sirindhorn, the university designated a wider than usual area as royal space, which pushed people off campus. He also said that students don’t graduate because they are handed a degree, that graduation should be for the people, and a graduation gown is created by the authorities and so is not necessary. He then burned a graduation gown in an act of protest.NewsChiang Mai UniversityChiang Mai University Student UnionGraduation ceremonyMonarchy reformstudent activiststudent movement
Claiming while drunk that the King of Thailand knew him well, naval officer Capt Alongkorn Ploddee has been dismissed from service effective from 7 January. He has been detained at a military camp in Sattahip, Chonburi, facing four charges and at risk of being charged with lèse majesté in a military court.
On 23 December, a video clip went viral online, showing a drunk man at a restaurant in Sattahip, Chonburi. Patrolling police officers arrived to check that no alcoholic drinks were sold at night at the restaurant, in accordance with a provincial mandate to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The man then intervened.
In his rant, he said that he was a naval officer who had close ties with big shots, claiming that he could remove any police officer from any police station. He also threw glass bottles onto the floor, warning the police to leave.
After public backlash against him, a video clip of a second incident has been posted online, showing similar behaviour. On 16 December at a restaurant near Ekkamai, he shouted claims that he had been the late King’s guard for 18 years and also a favourite of His Majesty. He failed to get free drinks as a waiter and a waitress politely asked him to leave.
“I was the Rama IX’s guard for 18 years. Rama X knows me well, just so you know that you are losers. I can remove you any time. No need to call anyone. I won’t go anywhere. I sit here. I’m the biggest in this country,” he said.
After public criticism and a written inquiry from police, the Royal Thai Navy revealed that the man was Capt Alongkorn Ploddee, the Director of the Real Estate Division at Sattahip Naval Base. A disciplinary committee was set up to investigate on the matter, followed by 14-day disciplinary actions against Capt Alongkorn.
To show responsibility, Adm Somprasong Nilsamai, Chief of Royal Thai Navy, subjected himself to disciplinary measures for 3 days and Vice Adm Narupol Kerdnak, commander of the Sattahip Naval Base, for 7 days from 28 December. Photos showed their shaved heads. They were also expected to walk long distances with a backpack and run with weights.
According to the Guardian, “shaven heads have been associated with trauma, brutality and the loss of individuality or strength.” Since the reign of King Rama X, a number of top brass officers have undergone head shaving as a form of punishment including Suriyan "Mor Yong" Sucharitpolwong who suspiciously died from a bloodstream infection in 2015.
Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, who was also mentioned by Capt Alongkorn in one of the video clips ‘Brother Tu’, praised the navy top brass for the self-punishment in a cabinet meeting.
Capt Alongkorn also claimed that he was in the 31st class of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School alongside a powerful police officer, Lt Gen Surachate "Big Joke" Hakparn.
In response, Lt Gen Surachate said that if Capt Alongkorn was really in the 31st class, then it was undeniable that he was one of his friends, but the misconduct was the man’s personal responsibility. After the New Year, the Minister of Defence ordered Capt Alongkorn dismissed for serious misconduct. He was also stripped of the right to all forms of pension.
After the dismissal, he was denied entry to Sattahip Naval Base. According to the announcement, with the photograph attached, he had at least 12 vehicles including one Isuzu, six Toyota, one Honda, one Porsche, one Ford, and two Mercedes Benz.
The 14th Army Region Court issued an arrest warrant against Capt Alongkorn. He was brought to Sattahip Police Station to acknowledge four charges: insulting of officers in the conduct of their duties, libel of officers carrying out their duties, resisting or obstructing officers in the conduct of their duties, and threatening officers to take illegitimate action.
Sattahip Police Station has set up a committee to consider whether to charge him under the lèse majesté law. According to Section 112, “whoever, defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” So far, there were still no relatives who came to bail him out.
While the cases like these should go through a civilian court considering that these happened when he was off duties and he was stripped of his titles, Daily News reported that all of these charges would be processed through the military court, claiming that he took the action while he was still an officer.NewsRoyal Thai Navy
On 4 January, a Draft Act on the Operations of Not-for-Profit Organisations was approved in principle by the cabinet. Drawn up by the Office of the Council of the State, the bill now goes to the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security (MSDHS) for public hearings before being returned to the cabinet for final consideration.
Men in security vests observe protesters. (File photo)
According to a government press release, the Council of the State drafted the new act to stop non-profits from being used for money laundering, and to develop the capacity of non-profits to work with the authorities in an open and transparent manner that truly benefits the public.
The bill has been under consideration since February 2021. Local civil society organisations (CSOs) have criticised the measure for its excessive regulation of non-profit financing and its vaguely-worded prohibitions.
As currently written, the bill prohibits organisations from engaging in activities that threaten national security, economic stability, foreign relations, public order, public safety and the rights and liberties of others.
Non-profits receiving overseas funding will also need to provide authorities with bank records showing where funds are held and what purpose they serve. The use of funds for other ends, particularly those deemed political, will not be allowed .
Those found guilty of violating the law face punishments ranging from fines and prison sentences to organisation closure.
The definition of a not-for-profit organisation seems to be clearer: ‘individuals that organise, in one form or another, to collectively pursue activities in society without seeking financial gain, exclusive of groups that stage ad-hoc activities of benefit to group members or political parties.’
On 7 January, No NGO Bill Thailand, a CSO network with the support of some 1,867 organisations and individuals nationwide, announced their opposition to the bill.
In a group statement, the draft was decried as an ill-intentioned effort to control the activities of NGOs in the name of public order and national security that would leave authorities free to decide which groups to prohibit without providing the accused the right to appeal to the Administration Court. It also noted that many laws already regulate CSO registration and financial activity.
The statement added that while network members supported transparency and oversight, they will: “oppose this bill to the end of the line, until this bill is withdrawn. Over 1,800 organisations and networks around the country have agreed to come out and oppose the government in this matter.”
Civic associations and foundations are currently regulated under the Civil and Commercial Code. Foundations must register with the Ministry of Interior. Other groups are required to register under other laws. Some are free to operate without registration.NewsOperations of Not-for-profit Organizations Actcivil societyNGO
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After a failed attempt a decade ago to amend or abolish the section of the Criminal Code that punishes people for defaming, insulting or threatening members of the monarchy, new calls have emerged questioning the monarch’s role in Thai democracy and have faced legal harassment.
Protester flash a 3-finger salute. One person holds a flag saying 'Free political prisoners. Abolish Section 112'. (File photo)
2021 saw the dwindling of a massive political movement calling for political and monarchy reform due to another wave of Covid-19 infections. Regardless of the decreasing number of public voices, the popular demand to abolish Section 112 of the Criminal Code, also known as the lèse majesté law, is an interesting sign.Past attempts to abolish 112
The current version of the lèse majesté law carries a penalty of 3-15 years in jail for those found guilty of defaming, insulting or threatening the King, the Queen, the Heir Apparent, or the Regent.
There have been attempts to amend Section 112 in the past. In 2008, the Student Federation of Thailand, Triumph International Labour Union and the activist group Prakai Fai (Spark of Fire) published a statement calling for a variety of political reforms and social welfare measures. Among the demands for judicial reform, it proposed the abolition of Section 112, calling it ‘backward and chauvinistic’.
A year later, Giles Ungpakorn, then a political science lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, gathered around 1,000 signatures in support of abolishing Section 112.
Somsak Jeamteerasakul (File photo)
In 2010, Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a history lecturer from Thammasat University, made ‘8 proposals for reforming the institution of the monarchy’:
- Abolish Section 8 of the Constitution, paving the way for parliament to conduct a trial over the monarch’s wrongdoing.
- Abolish Section 112 of the Criminal Code (the lèse majesté law)
- Abolish the Privy Council
- Abolish the Crown Property Act BE 2491 (1948)
- Abolish one-sided public relations and education related to the monarchy
- Abolish all royal prerogatives that allow the monarchy political expression
- Abolish all royal prerogatives regarding royal projects
- Prohibit all donations made by or to the monarchy
In April-May 2011, the civil society groups Democracy Network and 24 June for Democracy Movement rallied for another round of signatures to abolish Section 112.
Before 2012, academics from many colleges and universities had formed a group called the Committee Campaigning to Amend Section 112. The group proposed to reduce the penalty, remove the Section from the Chapter on security-related offences (which allows any individual to bring charges), make the Office of the Royal Secretariat the sole entity authorized to file complaints, and make a clear distinction between defamation and ‘honest criticism’.
They received 26,968 signatures in support of their proposal.
Before the establishment of this Committee, Worachet Pakeerut, Thapanan Nipithakul, Teera Suteevarangkul, Sawatree Suksri and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul of the Faculty of Law, Thammasat University, also proposed amendment of Section 112.
The Committee’s resolution was submitted to parliament on 29 May 2012. It was dismissed even before the parliament even had a chance to discuss it.A louder call for Section 112’s abolition
In comparison with the attempts of the past decade, the current campaign on Section 112 has clearly surpassed them, with the issue widely discussed. One indicator is the number of signatures in support of abolishing the law on the website no112.org, which reached 237,589 as of 5 January 2022.
Moreover, there is even a call for change in parliament from the Move Forward Party, a move that no party has ever before dared to make. The KLA Party, which has no MPs, also proposed establishing a committee to consider indictments under the law, which the government approved at the beginning of 2022.
But the number of Section 112 prosecutions is as high as ever. Since the law was enforced again in November 2020 after a brief moratorium, 166 people have been charged in 171 cases, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR).
The interpretation of the law by enforcement officers goes beyond the legal framework, says Pichit Likhitkitsomboon, a former lecturer at Thammasat’s Faculty of Economics who supported amendment a decade ago.
“I see it as a high degree of difference in terms of policy. 10 years ago at the time of the committee to amend Section 112, I understood that there had been no high-level policy that set out a clear stance on this. It was handled on a case-by-case basis. There was still no common basic approach and still no coordination among different bodies in the judicial process, the police, prosecutors, the courts and the prison system, because at that time, criticism was still not widespread.
Pichit Likhitkitsomboon (File photo)
“But today, we can see clearly that there is a clear approach from high-level politics setting out that, if this is the issue, cases must be prosecuted in this way,” said Pichit.
Pichit also does not understand the wide interpretation of the law since 2020 where actions like wearing traditional Thai outfits or some other dress ended with royal defamation charges.Monarchy’s role in democracy: a contributing factor to Section 112 discussion
Pichit finds the discussion in the past faced less resistance than at present. Many famous cases raised doubts about the enforcement and interpretation of the law, including that of Ampon ‘Ah Kong’ Tangnoppakul, the elderly lèse majesté convict who died of cancer while in custody in 2012 despite several attempts to secure bail due to his ill health. But the regular mechanisms of elected government and the atmosphere during the reign of the late King Rama IX accommodated differences of ideas.
But the movement starting in 2020 has pushed the limits of questioning the monarchy in public in a way the kingdom has never seen before. When discussion included the monarchy’s status and power within Thailand’s democratic system of government, it was inevitable that Section 112 would become an issue to be addressed.
“The idea of having to draw a clear line [around the monarchy’s power] has created discussion and astonishment. Especially those who have been living in the same relationship for fifty to sixty years will feel that posing questions or calls to draw a clear line are a threat, a path toward instability.
“There was a reaction. One weapon that was picked up was Section 112, so the debate that is taking place today is not a debate to find a solution … but a political conflict that includes defiance and a desire for systematic change. When feelings of understanding or belief like these arise, reasoned debate becomes difficult,” said Pichit.Too soon to forecast abolition
As far as public outcry over amendment or abolition are concerned, Pichit sees a long way to go to achieve real changes in terms of policy.
So far, the Pheu Thai Party and Move Forward Party are the only two parties that have taken a stance on doing something in terms of policy. Pichit considers only the Move Forward Party as the real deal. He discounts the stance taken by former PM Thaksin Shinawatra of the dissolved Thai Rak Thai Party, many of whose core members are now part of Pheu Thai.
“The stance of Pheu Thai is unchanged. It will absolutely not touch the monarchy or the military. They have never touched the military budget, not to mention the budget for the monarchy or related activities. This is the stance of the boss of the party who has a direct interest in this, coordinating the interests and relations of the monarchy and the military.
“The statement that was issued and caused one day of uproar, if you go and read it well, stated only that the party will consider the issue. It did not say at all that it will take part in amending Section 112. And a few days later, Khun Tony (Thaksin Shinawatra) put the brakes on. Since then, Pheu Thai has been silent,” said PichitFeaturelèse majesté lawSection 112Article 112Royal defamationSomsak JeamteerasakulPichit LikhitkitsomboonMonarchy reformThai monarchySource: prachatai.com/journal/2022/01/96686
With the ongoing political division in Thailand, controversies and boycott campaigns surrounding Sitala and other right-wing celebrities will not go away any time soon.
With a showcase event and social media campaign, Sitala’s first album with K-pop band H1-KEY has been released. In response to the controversies over her and her father’s role in anti-democracy protests which led to two military coups in 2006 and 2014, she said that she was young at the time and now wants diverse opinions to co-exist peacefully.
Her response faced another public backlash from pro-democracy elements in Thailand as the Twitter hashtag #bansitala soared in Thailand for a second time, citing current chaos in the country resulting from the suppression of the voices of dissent. In this divided nation, however, she did not fail to receive a welcome from conservative supporters and people who believe in keeping art and politics separate.
Controversy surrounding Sitala Wongkrachang emerged in December 2021 when GLG Entertainment announced that Sitala would join H1-KEY along with Korean artists Seoi (Lee Ye Jin) Riina (Lee Seung-Hyun), and Yel (Han Shin Young). According to Kprofiles, Sitala, born in 1996, was the fourth member to be announced.
The source said that she went to Korea in 2016 (when the junta government led by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha held a referendum to approve Thailand’s constitution, designed to prolong its power). After graduation from Ehwa Women’s University, Sitala became a trainee at Lionheart Entertainment in 2018. Her work towards becoming a K-pop star has been pretty smooth until now.
Her debut faced a public backlash when social media users, most of them young progressives still without the right to vote in 2016, exposed her and her family’s questionable past. The opposition party that young Thais voted for in 2019 and their two-year protests against the establishment in 2020-2021 have suffered relentless repression from the political establishment and security forces.
Saranyu Wongkrachang at a yellow shirt protest in 2008. Source: Wikipedia
Thai memes said that Saranyu Wongkrachang, Sitala’s father, resembled Tom Hiddleston who was cast as Loki for Marvel’s Avengers. But his royalist politics was dangerous. As an actor, director, and right-wing political activist who led protest after protest against elected governments, he paved the way for the military to seize power in 2006 and 2014.
Saranyu died from liver cancer in 2020 at the age of 59, having devoted his life to what he believed to be the defence of the monarchy and the country from corrupt, elected politicians. Little did he know that his political legacy would soon affect his daughter’s career as young people posted a flood of Tweets damning her and her family’s political profile.
Bruce Banner said he was “always angry” as he transformed into the Hulk and later in the Avengers threw Loki like a stuffed doll. The Thai progressive youth are acting in a similar manner. Their public outcry has torn apart the hypocrisies of conservative celebrities, who profess immense love for their country and a paranoia of foreign political interference, but send their family members abroad for better lives.
In December 2021, Yuenyong ‘Aed’ Opakul warned that Thais should not trust foreigners who want to colonize the country using democracy as a rhetorical device. Netizens responded by reposting photos of a grinning Yuenyong walking his daughter Nicha ‘Zen’ Opakul to the altar to marry a Scottish man. Yuenyong is Carabao’s frontman, famous for composing royalist and anti-American imperialist songs, and also a yellow shirt activist with a long anti-democratic political record in Thailand since the 2000s.
Jetrin ‘Je’ Wattanasin is a Thai singer and a People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) activist who gave nationalist speeches calling for the overthrow of the Yingluck Shinawatra government in 2014. While ranting on social media against pro-democracy protesters who demanded reform in 2020-2021, he invited a public backlash by sending his three sons to study in the UK. Young Thai progressives asked why he sends his children abroad if he loves the country so much.
With the anti-Sitala hashtags gaining more and more traction in Thailand in December 2021, GLG Entertainment, the manager of H1-KEY, responded to what the Bangkok Post called “the fuss“, saying that they “cannot hold Sitala accountable on the basis of her father’s past decisions and actions that were beyond her responsibility” and they had “made the decision not to change the members of the group.” The netizens countered this by reposting a photo of Sitala herself participating in an anti-democracy protest.
Amid the public backlash and calls for consumer boycotts, Ja Mezz (Kim Sung-hee), a rapper and the CEO of GLG Entertainment, announced that the company would be dissolved after accusations against him of aggressive behaviour and drug use. The disbanding of the parent company GLG Entertainment left the fate of H1-KEY and Sitala uncertain, a moment of catharsis for pro-democracy netizens. Then the H1-KEY debut and Sitala’s reply led to another wave of controversy on 5 January.
At the time of writing, Athletic Girl, the first H1-KEY music video, has 1.9 million views on YouTube. The Manager Online, a pro-establishment outlet, used the headline “more boycott, more views” as the song reached three hundred thousand views during the first 24 hours. In contrast, Matichon Online, a pro-democracy outlet, talked of “just hundreds of thousands” in its headline during the first 19 hours.
How can we measure the impact of a political backlash on the success of a debut? As of now, we have not been able to find an average number of views for a K-pop band debut. It would be unfair to compare a new K-pop band with well-established bands like BTS, Blackpink, or Twice, which have billions of views per year. The list of K-pop artists with the highest average views per music video also does not give comparable data.
According to Statista’s research for 2018, 46.1 per cent of entertainment agencies said that “the debut rate of their trainees is around 60 to 90 per cent,” while another 26.8 per cent said that “less than 60 per cent of their trainees can debut.” And “to debut as a singer in Korea took around two years and four months on average.” While it is common sense that sex scandals or criminal allegations will impact celebrities’ debuts or careers, political opinions and political division are more ambiguous as a factor.
According to the Harvard Business Review, any business should make concessions if the issue is one-sided (such as child labour) and avoid talking if it is polarizing (such as same-sex marriage in the US). The responses from companies related to H1-KEY, both in the case of Ja Mezz (one-sided) and Sitala (polarized), are to some degree right out of the textbook.
But will they pay the price? A drastically divided nation like Thailand ranked third in 2019 with 8.1% to the K-pop global viewership, behind Indonesia (9.9%) and South Korea (10.1%) itself. However, Bangkok surpassed Seoul in terms of views per capita (115 to 91), second only to Ho Chi Minh city (392). Mass protests in 2020-2021 saw hundreds of thousands gathered in Bangkok. While political division may not be a significant factor, it could not be ruled out of the equation.
We know where the anger of pro-democracy protesters comes from. During 2020-2021, more than a thousand protests were held across Thailand demanding various reforms. None of the demands has been fully achieved as inequality is rising. A number have been injured and arrested. When right-wing celebrities, who in their eyes have been working tirelessly to deprive them of their future, send their children abroad for better lives, a backlash should not be unexpected.
When the pressure from netizens has led to a real reduction in advertising revenue, several right-wing celebrities resigned from TV programmes. Some young Thai progressives would not even consider accepting a formal apology from public figures who have sided with anti-democracy forces. Regardless of the young progressives’ impact, controversies surrounding Sitala and other celebrities will not get away soon.
Meanwhile, left-wing celebrities may as well buckle up to face a public backlash from right-wing supporters. As long as there are no changes in the political system, these trends will stay, causing celebrities headaches. Now that their political standpoint, even at a young age, needs to be considered, entertainment companies that welcome stars may need to hire more public relations managers to craft more statements.Round UpSitalaboycottpro-democracy protest
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's meeting with Myanmar's self-declared State Administration Council leader Min Aung Hlaing is a threat to ASEAN and Myanmar, says ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s official visit to Myanmar, his meeting with the self-declared State Administration Council leader Min Aung Hlaing, and their Joint Press release, are a brazen and dangerous attempt to seize the initiative away from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN’s) collective approach to the crisis in Myanmar. These two coup makers are conducting another coup within ASEAN that threatens to split the organisation itself. The other eight members of ASEAN must jointly demand that Cambodia adheres to the Five-Point Consensus and works within the collective framework of ASEAN to tackle the multiple urgent crises in Myanmar.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Min Aung Hlaing agreed in April 2021 to the Five-Point Consensus as ASEAN’s approach to the humanitarian and human rights crisis in Myanmar. Almost immediately, Myanmar’s junta broke the agreement by escalating the violence and has failed to make any genuine progress on the agreed plan. Even before Cambodia took over the Chairmanship of ASEAN, Prime Minister Hun Sen signalled his disdain for the Five-Point Consensus, declaring he had his own plans. It is deeply concerning for the whole region that he has subverted the ASEAN process, and is hijacking the Chairmanship to oppose the will of the people of Myanmar who have made their stance clear for close to a year that they will not accept junta control.
Their joint press statement announces a number of apparent breakthroughs in their talks, but no one should be fooled that any actual progress has been achieved. The military has made no substantive concessions and there has been no dialogue that could lead to a tenable ceasefire. There is no mention of imprisoned elected officials such as President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, nor of the National Unity Government formed by elected representatives who were unconstitutionally ousted from power by the military. The apparent humanitarian initiative agreed to by Hun Sen and Min Aung Hlaing places aid in the hands of the same military that is blocking and destroying humanitarian aid to those in need, conducting the war that has killed, injured, and displaced hundreds of thousands of people, while impoverishing millions more. No progress can be made, unless the military junta’s campaign of terror against the Myanmar people is stopped and the Myanmar people and their elected representatives are consulted and included. An enduring solution to the crisis cannot be reached with the junta setting its own conditions.
“The joint statement released by the Cambodian Prime Minister with the leader of the illegal junta, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, is a misguided and dangerous attempt to deceptively portray a breakthrough, when in fact, his unilateral actions have dramatically weakened ASEAN’s collective leverage to solve the Myanmar crisis. It is a brazen attempt by these two coup leaders to hijack ASEAN for their own authoritarian purposes, undermining the Myanmar peoples’ fight for democracy and human rights,” said Charles Santiago, Chair of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights.
It is clear that Myanmar’s military has displayed a flagrant lack of respect for ASEAN, and in fact since its coup attempt on February 1, 2021, it appears to have used the bloc to try to gain legitimacy while at the same time intensifying brutal reprisals against the people of Myanmar, PM Hun Sen has chosen to be complicit in their strategy by recklessly attempting to legitimise the junta against the collective will of ASEAN leadership.
“Hun Sen should know better, having lived through the Khmer Rouge genocide, than to act as an accomplice to the Myanmar junta that is accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Hun Sen and the junta’s attempt to deceive the world that they are making progress to resolve the situation is blatantly dishonest, and Myanmar people are not fooled by it. The last thing we need is another dictator supporting Min Aung Hlaing’s campaign of terror. Has Hun Sen forgotten the millions of Cambodian people who suffered through their own genocide? Hun Sen’s hijacking of ASEAN through its Chairmanship should not facilitate continuation of the junta’s own killing fields against the people of Myanmar. This is unacceptable and ASEAN leaders have the responsibility to stop this,” said Khin Ohmar, founder of Progressive Voice.
ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights and Progressive Voice call on the other eight members of ASEAN to jointly demand that Cambodia, as ASEAN Chair, adheres to the Five-Point Consensus and works within the collective framework that has been maintained since its founding 55 years ago. If no urgent actions are taken, the other members risk colluding with Hun Sen in furthering the destruction of the unity, integrity, and credibility of ASEAN, while the junta continues its terror campaign against the people of Myanmar.
We call on ASEAN leaders to reiterate their commitment to support the Myanmar people’s aspirations to achieve peace, freedom, democracy, and respect for human rights in their country.Pick to PostASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)Hun SenMin Aung HlaingMyanmarASEANMyanmar coup
On 6 January 2022, prosecutors have prosecuted Thanaphon Wichan, a labor union activist from her attampt to give a Labour Minister a petition calling for assistance for labours amidst the pandemic. The court allowed her to post bail on own recognizance.
Policemen instruct the migrant labours at the ministry of labour on 29 October 2021.
The case stems from an incidence on 29 October 2021, when Thanaphon Wichan, representative of migrant employees, The Workers’ Union, the Migrant Working Group and the Labour Network for Peoples Rights has gone to the Ministry of Labour to submit a letter to the Minister of Labour to follow up on their previous petition to demand a solution to construction workers and migrant workers amidst the Covid-19 pandemic and to demand a solution to other concerned issues including expenses incurred from entering the registration process which still lacked the clarity.
They wanted more clarification on the government’s policies to register the migrant workers per the cabinet resolution on 28 September 2021. The handing of the letter and negotiation with representatives of the Ministry of Labour was disrupted when the Cambodian migrant workers who accompanied her were arrested right in the premises of the Ministry of Labour.
After the incidence, the Ministry of Labour authorized its personnel to report the case with the inquiry officials of the Din Daeng Police Station against Ms. Thanaphon for “harbouring, hiding or in any manner assisting..”, an offence against the Immigration Act. As the police inquiry has yielded no culpable evidence against her on such charges, the authority decided to press another charge against her for “being complicit in the organization of a gathering and an illegal assembly in a manner that risks spreading the disease in the area designated by an announcement or an order as a maximum and strict control zone and an area under strict surveillance except for permission has been obtained from competent officials, an act of which is a breach of the Regulation issued under Section 9 of the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations B.E. 2548 (2005)” (For more information, please read https://mwgthailand.org/en/press/1639313913 )
Thanaphon and her attorney have met with the prosecutors of the Department of Special Litigation 2 of the Kwaeng Court (Office of Attorney General) to submit a letter of petition urging the prosecutors to decide to not prosecute the case since it is tantamount to a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation or SLAPP.
Her act was simply the use of a mechanism to complain with concerned agencies, the right of which is recognized in the Constitution. In addition, prior to submitting the letter, a coordination had been made with representatives of the Ministry of Labour beforehand.
Therefore, the Ministry of Labour was obliged to act to ensure the enforcement of the disease prevention protocol to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The prosecutors accepted the letter of petition but have failed to review it and not acted to refrain from prosecuting the unfair case.
Koreeyor Manuchae, attorney, says that Thanaphon is a labor right defender and has accompanied a group of workers whose rights have been violated to lodge the complaint pursuant to a grievance mechanism provided by the state. Instead, she was victimized by the state which used the law as a tool to impede access to justice and it was a process of revictimization made possible by law.
She demands that the state grievance mechanism be made a safe space to which all workers must have an easy access based on an equal basis. Ms. Koreeyor further says that the prosecutors can use their discretion to not prosecute a case which may not serve public interest. But on the contrary, the prosecutors in this case have become part of the process to weaponize the law to stifle people’s rights and freedoms.
Meanwhile, the offence according to Section 9 of the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations B.E. 2548 (2005) has been widely misused and abused to target human rights defenders or people who simply exercise their rights and freedoms as recognized in the Constitution and not for controlling the diseases as claimed.Pick to PostMigrant Working Group (MWG)labour rights
In a video recording of the 29th annual Bangkok Critics Assembly film award ceremony, references to imprisoned pro-democracy activists were cut from the speeches of awardees from ‘School Town King’, a film that took home seven awards.
The award ceremony on 24 December 2021. (Source:Youtube/ Bangkok Critics Assembly)
According to a 4 January Man On Film Facebook post, references to the detainees in the speeches of every awardee but one were cut from a nearly five-hour long video of the award ceremony, held on 24 December 2021 at Lido Connect in Bangkok. The only speech not ‘edited’ was given by Sinjai Plengpanich, who accepted an award on behalf of M.L. Pundhevanop Dhewakul.
In a separate Facebook post, School Town King director Wattanapume Laisuwanchai said that a total of seven speeches were cut, including one by his film’s editor Harin Paesongthai, who received an award for his work.
In his speech, Harin said that the film sought to address inequality and oppression in society, “not only in the education system … [but the social] system where we are dominated from the smallest unit to the largest, by the people on top.”
He added that he wanted to: “… use this opportunity to support and stand with the fighters who are being unfairly detained. Free our friends. There are still people suffering, detained because of the injustice of the system … I believe that there will be a better day for us. Justice must take place.”
In an online post Wattanapume decried the deletion of the comments as “unbelievable”. Noting that state support for the filmmaking industry in Thailand was negligible, he argued that filmmakers should be free to air their views, as well as to thank supporters and those who work behind the scenes.
“School Town King tries to speak for the voices that have been suppressed, the voices of the people in this country that have been overlooked. I find it incredible that, even on the awards stage, cuts would be made to the air time given for each person’s speech. I am not sure why. Was it politics?”
“Go back and listen to each speech. No accusations were made. No lies were spoken. No rude words were uttered. Instead, they spoke of things that have actually happened in this society, things we see in the news everyday.”
School Town King tells the story of ‘Book’ and ‘Non’, two youngsters from Khlong Toei, a densely-populated slum in the middle of Bangkok. The pair dream of becoming famous rap artists, but their daily lives are a struggle framed by the inequity of the Thai society order.
The actor Thanayut ‘Book’ Na Ayudhya and Kontai Poonlab received an excellent film score award for their song ‘Freestyle’. According to a post by Thanayut, a.k.a. Elevenfinger, his rap performance addressing the persecution of pro-democracy protesters was deleted from the video as well.
Bangkok Critics Assembly had been giving awards to people in the Thai filmmaking sector since 1991.NewsBangkok Critics AssemblySchool Town KingWattanapume LaisuwanchaiHarin PaesongthaiSource: prachatai.com/journal/2022/01/96681
Fed up with Thai patriarchy, groups of Thai women, feminists, and LGBTQ+ from all walks of life united in the struggle against the political establishment led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and joined other pro-democracy groups in calling for monarchy reform.
The women, feminist, and LGBTQ+ groups in Thailand helped nonviolent resistance by contributing to a more inclusive movement, through adding gender issues, reinterpreting politics and creating a safe space for participants. They also equipped the campaign with creativity and resilience.
Challenges ahead include how to get their messages across to broader sectors in Thai society, including some among in the pro-democracy protesters themselves. Their demands have yet to be fully achieved as the current government has made only limited concessions.
Being a woman in Thailand
Throughout the two decades of political crisis, gender equality in Thailand has deteriorated. After the military coup in 2014, Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha became Prime Minister of Thailand. Not long after he seized power, two British tourists were murdered on Ko Tao; the woman was also raped. What Prayut said shocked the world:
"They [tourists] think that Thailand is beautiful, safe and that they can do anything they want here. That they can put on their bikinis and go anywhere they want. I ask, can they get away with wearing bikinis in Thailand? Unless they are not beautiful?"
Under pressure, he apologized for the comment. Two years on, he still had not learned to communicate with the public. During his opening speech at an event promoting vocational education at the Impact Arena in 2016, he directly attacked the very idea of gender equality.
"Everyone says we must create equality — men and women deserve the same rights and can do the same good and bad things. Oh, if you all think so, Thai society will deteriorate!" said Gen Prayuth, shaking his head.
It was not known if he apologized for this comment. Whether he was sorry or not would mean very little considering the deep-rooted patriarchy in traditional Thai institutions, from schools, universities, and workplaces, to the cabinet, parliament, the military, and even the palace.
The 2021 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Reportranked Thailand 79th out of 153 countries in terms of gender equality. While Thailand achieved relatively high scores and rankings in educational attainment (0.992) health and survival (0.978) and economic participation (0.787) it ranked 134th in political empowerment with an abysmal score of 0.084.
Thailand has had its first female prime minister – Yingluck Shinawatra. Also the youngest prime minister of Thailand, she took office in 2011 only to be ousted by a military putsch in 2014. One of the reasons conservatives disliked her was because she was a 'stupid bitch’. Representation of women in recent cabinets and parliaments under the governments of Prayut Chan-o-cha has been meagre.
Women's economic lives improved in the 1990s out of the struggle for rights, but have remained stagnant since. The rights to 90 days of maternity leave was by labour unions in 1993 after a hard struggle. Children should be breastfed for at least six months, but the period of maternity leave has remained significantly less than this for almost two decades.
The most blatant expression of patriarchy is found in the crime statistics. The Ministry of Justice says that over the past three years, Thai prisons had received 10,000-15,000 sexual offenders, whose victims are almost all women, many of them teenage school students.
In 2020 alone, the Pavena Foundation received reports of more than 10,000 cases of violence against women and children in the form of rape, physical assault, trafficking, drug addiction, and unintended pregnancy. This was 3,000 more than the previous year. Frightening as these numbers are, many more go unreported.
Prostitution is illegal in Thailand despite its notoriety. In practice, sex workers have to bribe the police for protection. The police can turn against them any time, leading to stories of abuse of power, including 'sting operations' which the authorities prohibited in 2019 after a public backlash.
The problems of patriarchy reach as high as the palace itself. King Vajiralongkorn has been married five times with Thailand now under one queen and one royal consort. Many stories go unreported in Thailand, as they could constitute a violation of the lèse-majesté law and result in 15 years in prison.
The list goes on and on and on.
Being an LGBTQ+ in Thailand
Meanwhile, Thai society has been tolerant towards the LGBTQ+ community, but as Prachatai English pointed out, calling it a paradise for LGBTQ+ is hugely overestimated.
In 2013, the Thailand Tourism Authority launched its "Go Thai, Be Free" campaign to attract LGBT tourists. Bangkok has been called "Asia's gay capital" and is known for its gay nightlife scene, transgender beauty queens, and gender confirmation surgery.
However, this facade of acceptance is only the tip of the iceberg. Thailand promotes itself as a gay paradise, but it offers no protection for its LGBT population. Discussions of sex and sexuality are still taboo. Sex education is limited in school, and LGBT people live under intense pressure not to bring shame on their families.
The LGBT community in Thailand is tolerated as long as its members remain within specific social confines. In Thai media, the token "kathoey" or trans woman is rarely seen in any other role than comic relief and gay people are portrayed negatively or as stock characters. LGBT films are often banned, such as Tanwarin Sukkhapisit's Insects in the Backyard.
Even with the Gender Equality Act of 2015, there is little legal support for the LGBT community. Homosexuality is no longer a crime under Thai law, but the LGBT community still faces discrimination in the workplace, school, and home. There are many reports of LGBT people being denied promotion or fired from their jobs after disclosing their sexuality.
LGBT students face harassment and bullying from their teachers and peers based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. A USAID/UNDP report cited a 2014 study conducted by UNESCO, Plan International, and Mahidol University, saying that a third of the 2000 LGBT students participating in the survey had been harassed. Only a minority had reported the bullying.
Transgender children are often abused by their families and punished for being trans. Under Thai law, a transgender person cannot legally change their title on their identity papers, even after gender confirmation surgery. Most schools and universities still do not officially recognize students' right to dress according to their gender identity.
Last but not least, same-sex couples still cannot legally marry. Therefore, they are denied certain rights afforded to heterosexual couples. They do not have the right to adopt a child, take their partner's name, access social benefits, make medical decisions on their partner's behalf, or obtain a marriage visa for a partner who does not hold Thai citizenship.
Rainbow flags can be seen in almost every protest in Thailand from 2020-2021.
"Patriarchy shall perish, equality shall prosper."
While the problems piled up under Thai patriarchy, the political elite were still busy calculating how to prolong their status quo. In 2019, an election was held as a result of public pressure. The opposition Future Forward Party, which gained 6 million votes, became a significant threat to the establishment's mandate. The party was eventually dissolved by the courts. But Prayut did not know that he would soon have to face one of the biggest protests in Thai history.
After the dissolution of the Future Forward party, pro-democracy protests proliferated across Thailand. Fed up with prolonged political decadence, protestors said, "let it end in our generation." They focused on the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, the drafting of a new constitution, and reform of the monarchy. Demands and tactics became increasingly diverse as the movement grew. Stalled by the Covid-19 outbreaks, the protests came back to haunt the establishment when infections declined.
With a middle-class mentality, many Thai women found polygamy at the top of the political hierarchy intolerable. LGBTQ+ persons also saw no place in the national discourse. With the declining economy, they experienced growing inequality in contrast with the luxurious lifestyles of the political elite. The system has been hurting them, so the feminists and LGBTQ+ groups joined the frontlines, calling for gender equality and a better standard of living.
Throughout 2020 and 2021, gender diversity groups would display rainbow flags and wear vivid clothes, joining many pro-democracy rallies. Many chanted the historic slogans "dictatorship shall perish, democracy shall prosper," but the motto "patriarchy shall perish, equality shall prosper" also appeared. The MeToo movement served as a backdrop in shaping their demands, including abortion rights, free sanitary pads, and ending sexual abuses.
The women, feminist, and LGBTQ+ groups in Thailand helped nonviolent resistance by contributing to a more inclusive movement by adding gender issues, reinterpreting politics, and creating a safe space for participants. They also equipped the campaign with more tactics, creativity, and resilience. As pro-democracy protesters fought for freedom, justice, and equality, support from LGBTQ+ was indispensable to the democratic movement in Thailand.
Women, feminist, and LGBTQ+ groups in Thailand
The women, feminist and LGBTQ+ movement is diverse, from well-established organizations to loosely structured campaigns, from older to younger generations, and from online to offline. Important groups include 1448 for All, Voice from Friends, Women for Freedom and Democracy (later renamed Feminist Liberation Front Thailand), Serithoey Plus (Free Gender TH), and FemTwit.
The feminist and LGBTQ+ movement in Thailand spans generations. Ratsamom, a group of mothers of activists, fought for the unconditional release of their children. The campaign also expanded in high schools. Bad Students, a student group that focuses on education reform, had significant involvement from feminist and LGBTQ+ students against sexual abuse in schools.
Not all women and LGBTQ+ in Thailand define themselves as feminists. However, many groups use their traditional roles in society to fight for freedom. Ratsamom mobilized the concept of motherhood in the struggle. The marginalized groups in Thai culture, like sex workers and LGBTQ+ persons, also seized the opportunity to fight for broader social and legal recognition by expressing their identities through the protest platforms.
The feminists and LGBTQ+ worked across diverse groups, including political groups like Khana Ratsadon, Free Youth, United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, and UNME of Anarchy. While these political groups and the general public do not always welcome feminism, these women and LGBTQ+ activists and celebrities helped incorporate the idea into the platform.
Women and LGBTQ+ celebrities also became more vocal about politics, including Maria Poonlertlarp, Sumitta ‘Fai' Duangkaew, Focus Jeerakul, Kanatip 'Louk Golf' Soonthornrak, Kuljira 'Aey' Thongkong, and Inthira' Sine' Charoenpura. With the help of the internet and social media, political criticisms from celebrities reaches millions quickly and is very difficult to take down.
On Twitter, FemTwit would call out any behaviour or speech relating to toxic masculinity. Many Thai pages on the internet and social media, including Thai Consent, Spectrum and Feminista, also used their platforms to shed light on feminism and LGBTQ+ issues. When the protests erupted, these pages covered from a gender perspective the stories the mainstream media tried to avoid. Various actors in the movement helped make sure that calls for democracy and gender equality were intertwined.
Contributions to the pro-democracy movement
Women, feminists, and LGBTQ+ groups in Thailand have contributed to the pro-democracy movement in at least three ways. First, they help make the pro-democracy movement more inclusive. Second, they provide the protests with more creativity. Third, by making the movement more inclusive and creative, they help improve the resilience of the nonviolent campaign against government repression.
Sirabhob' Raptor' Attohi
Making the movement more inclusive
The women, feminists, and LGBTQ+ groups in Thailand have helped make the democratic movement in Thailand more inclusive by adding gender issues, reinterpreting politics, and creating a safe space to promote public participation. As Sirabhob' Raptor' Attohi, a co-leader of Serithoey Plus, said, "a fight for democracy does not have only men."
5.1.1 Adding gender issues
Gender diversity protesters sang a Thai version of A Rapist in Your Path, calling for the protection of women and LGBTQ+ persons in March 2021
Throughout 2020-2021, feminists and LGBTQ+ helped add a wide range of gender issues to the Thai pro-democracy movement. Some were influenced by the MeToo movement globally and had been part of public discussions before the protests. These include:
Abortion rights. In Aug 2020, Kornkanok Khumta, a representative from Free Women, gave a speech on stage at Democracy Monument calling for abortion rights. She said that Section 301 of the Criminal Code, which criminalizes abortion, was unconstitutional.
Blood donations. Despite frequent shortages, Thai hospitals and Thai Red Cross society still do not accept blood donations from LGBTQ+ persons, claiming that they could have transmittable diseases. In Nov 2020, Seri Thoey Plus held a rally, referring to the issue as one of their demands with the hashtag #AcceptKatoeyBlood.
Decriminalization of sex work. In Sep 2020, the Empower Foundation launched an online petition to collect signatures to abolish the 1996 Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act. This legislation has led to abuse of power by the police against Thai sex workers, making them vulnerable to extortion and persecution.
Free sanitary pads. Many did not like that sanitary pads in Thailand were made subject to a 7% value-added tax. In Jan 2020, an activist group launched an online campaign on Change.org. With thousands of supporters, they handed a letter to a parliamentary committee, demanding the government provide free sanitary pads as a part of state welfare.
Legalization of same-sex marriage. In Jul 2020, the LGBTQ+ activists in parade costumes protested against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his government. They demanded the government amend the Civil and Commercial Code instead of passing a separate Civil Partnership bill that will enable civil unions but still discriminate against LGBT marriages.
Recognition of LGBTQ+ students in schools. In Jul 2020, Bad Students held a rally at the Ministry of Education, shouting, "we are not freaks." They handed a letter to the Permanent Secretary, calling for an end of hairstyle regulations and compulsory heterosexual uniforms and for better understanding and acceptance of LGBTQ+ students.
Ending sexual abuse. In Nov 2020, Nalinrat Tuthubthim, a 20-year-old student, held a placard reading "I have been sexually abused by teachers. School is not a safe place" during a pro-democracy rally in Bangkok. The action led to victim-blaming comments and solidarity support, raising awareness about the struggle against misogyny in Thai schools. Around the same time, a female protester in underwear held a protest sign exposing the hypocrisy of having a compulsory female uniform yet being seen as "provoking." In March 2021, gender diversity protesters also sang a Thai version of A Rapist in Your Path, calling for the protection of women and LGBTQ+ persons. Violations in women's prisons. Panusaya' Rung' Sithijirawattanakul, a protest leader, was detained in Oct 2020. Her long dyed hair was cut short and re-dyed black. Also, she was told to replace her glasses with a pair with a plain black frame. In November, a group of activists formerly detained at the Central Women Correctional Institution gathered to protest, pointing out the violations and demanding the separation of detainees awaiting trial from convicts according to international law. They displayed a banner reading "All they could do to us", the title of a book written by Prontip Mankhong, an activist sentenced to 2 years in jail under the lèse majesté law. The book describes vividly what it is like to be an activist in a Thai women's prison.
5.1.2 Reinterpretation of politics
In many cases, the women, the feminist, and LGBTQ+ groups did not just add gender into the equation. They also offered a different interpretation of the political demands to encourage participation. While it could be challenging to convey their messages, it is necessary for gender equality in the long run.
In 2020-2021, the main three demands of the Thai pro-democracy protesters were the prime minister's resignation, the drafting of a new constitution, and reform of the monarchy. The women, the feminist, and LGBTQ+ groups helped reinterpret these demands to be more inclusive by using various protest tactics.
It was obvious to Thai women and LGBTQ+ communities that Prayut was bad for them. The protesters also realized that the current constitution allows Prayut and the unelected senators to stay in power and prevent pro-gender equality legislation. The current constitution, drafted by the junta's aides, also enabled the Constitutional Court to strip the MP status from Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, an MP of the Move Forward Party who promotes LGBTQ+ rights. By taking to streets with pride flags and colourful outfits, the action speaks for itself. Or, as a gay protest shirt put it succinctly, "I love dicks, not dictators."
Chumaporn ‘Waddao’ Taengkliang
The feminist and the LGBTQ+ groups also have had a say in monarchy reform. In Aug 2020, Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, the royal consort, was stripped of her titles for alleged "disloyalty". Amid the calls for monarchy reform at a big protest in Sep 2020, Chumaporn ‘Waddao’ Taengkliang gave a speech with a pride flag in her hand, asking anyone who would make fun of the royal consort to rethink.
Chumaporn explained that seen through a feminist lens, gender, the political system and the royal palace are intertwined. Therefore, Thai women, even concubines in the royal palace, are all victims who should not be humiliated. “This is called injustice. This is called injustice under a patriarchal structure,” she said.
“If you all truly believe that humans are equal, then believe that the voices of women and other genders are as valuable as those of men,” said Chumaporn. “If you support all ten reforms of the monarchy, I ask for one more, which is the need to abolish the patriarchal structure under the monarchy.”
With the spread of the Covid-19 and its economic impacts in 2020-2021, the topic of the welfare state and labour rights received more attention from the Thai public. Restart Democracy or REDEM, a campaign by the student group Free Youth, held a protest emphasizing labour rights and reducing the state budget for the monarchy. The slogan “workers are the ones who build the nation, not kings” spread online and on the streets.
To build on the concept, on 2 July 2021, Sirisak Chaited, an LGBTQ+ activist, gave a speech at a protest site saying that “prostitutes built the nation, not kings.” Reminding listeners that prostitutes brought billions into the Thai tourist industry and are the heads of many families, Sirisak called for the legalization of sex work and economic relief from the government.
Making the central demands relatable to the ordinary people is a challenge for any political campaign. The feminist reinterpretation of the main three political demands contributed to the solution. From the angle that “the personal is political,” women, feminists and LGBTQ+ did not just reinterpret the political demands, but also the boundary of politics itself.
Pride flags with the message "Marriage equality" hung above the Ratchaprasong Intersection during the 28 November 2021 protest.
Creating safe space within the movement
(25 Oct 2020) Ratsadance's performance at Rachaprasong Intersection helps reduce tension among the pro-democracy protesters.
The gender diversity groups added gender demands and offered a different version of politics to the protest platform to make the movement more inclusive. However, concerns for the safety of women and LGBTQ+ activists and protesters remain a massive challenge. These undermine not only the movement’s legitimacy but also discourage public participation in civil resistance campaigns.
Threats against women could be seen on both online and offline platforms. In Jun 2020, Parit ‘Penguin’ Chiwarak, a protest leader, admitted that a member of Revolution Dome, a student activist group, was suspected of committing sexual abuse. It was one of many cases involving female student activists in the past few years. These stories were often highlighted by right-wing outlets to discredit the pro-democracy movement.
In Oct 2020, when protests were at their peak, Thai media outlets reported that women protesters were at risk. Pictures of their private parts were shared on exclusive online groups at 299 baht. The Voices From Friends found that 65 out of 1,172 participants said pictures or videos of them were taken without consent in a single protest rally. A Feminist’s Liberation Front Thailand's activist also noted that LGBTQ+ protestors were a target of ridicule in the protests.
Sexual violations within the pro-democracy movement are just an extension of sexual violations elsewhere in Thai society, in families, schools, and the workplace. In the majority of cases, the perpetrators were known to the victims. However, what recently became the biggest problem was the police crackdown and unlawful arrests during political rallies. Since the latter half of 2021, police repression has been a significant threat, as tear gas, rubber bullets, batons, and even real bullets have been widely deployed.
To ensure that the protests are a safe domain for expression and play a leading role in realizing gender equality, the Free Feminist deployed several measures. The Free Feminist (formerly named Free Women) set up Anonymous Meeting Points where women and LGBTQ+ individuals can gather to join a protest as a group. Using online platforms such as Twitter and Telegram, staff established a communication channel between the activists and the protesters to monitor the latter’s status and ensure that reliable people could help in the event of danger when in a protest.
The activists also asked participants to fill in a Survey Monkey form to obtain basic information, including age, medical condition, and contact information. At the end of a protest, the data was deleted to protect their privacy. Through these applications, protesters could check in and out of any political rallies to let their trusted ones know their status. The Free Feminist also invented Secure Rangers, a team of volunteers with rainbow badges, to roam protest sites to ensure protesters’ safety.
Seeing the importance of these systems, many volunteered to join the activist group, contributing to the movement-building effort. When police repression recently became more severe, these measures became crucial for women and LGBTQ+ and protesters in general. When a police crackdown took place, the Anonymous Meeting Points were used to locate the protesters. Secure Rangers would shift their focus to facilitating the exit of people from the protest site.
Apart from Anonymous Meeting Points and Secure Rangers, the Free Feminist recently created Krongkaokang, a monitoring network that reported the field situation live on social media. The information collected was fed into a risk assessment programme, dividing a protest site into zones based on risk levels. Krongkaokang helped ensure that protesters were well-informed about the situation and could more safely participate in a political rally. Krongkaokang also functioned to combat state disinformation to discredit the pro-democracy protesters.
Behind these activities is the idea that mass participation is the key to victory in a nonviolent struggle. To secure the strategic objective, a safe space must be created to reduce the participation cost. Chumaporn made it clear that “if…the space is not safe,… fewer people will join. … We want to create a safe space in every aspect so that as many people as possible can come out to raise their voice.”
Jatuporn Saeoueng reports to Yannawa Police Station after being charged for allegedly impersonating the queen during the catwalk protest in October 2020.
Women and gender diversity groups make the movement more inclusive, but they also equip the protests with creativity and resilience. Feminists and LGBTQ+ in Thailand, as in other parts of the world, have been cultural inventors. With the patriarchal structure squeezing them to the edges of society, they become one of the most creative groups expressing their identity and waging defiance.
The most visible was aspect has been their costumes and use of cultural references. To capture media attention, the streets of Bangkok in 2020 were often the site of drag queen parades, pride flags, and colourful outfits. In July, LGBT activists held a demonstration. They chanted a dialogue adapted from Haunting Me (Hor Taew Tak), a famous Thai comedy about LGBT people directed by Poj Arnon, making fun of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his government.
The Feminist and LGBTQ+ groups were also skilful in using art in pro-democracy protests. In Oct 2020, they were frontliners in an activity on Silom Road called the People’s Runway, where a catwalk performance mocked Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana Rajakanya after it was revealed that the government had been subsidizing her fashion brand. Many LGBTQ+ activists wore traditional Thai costumes to join the catwalk protest.
Another example worth mentioning is Rasadance, a group that liberates their bodies through dance regardless of gender or age. It began when five protesters wanted to disperse tension at the Victory Monument by performing dance covers of K-Pop songs. The video clips later went viral. Korean media outlets also interviewed them. Among the performances included a dance cover of Into The New World by Girls’ Generation and Miniskirt by AOA, with the lyrics “Don’t tell me how to dress.”
In Dec 2020, a gay couple kissed in front of parliament to shed light on the legalization of same-sex marriage. The skit received massive media attention, with support from liberal allies and outcries from the conservatives. Faced with a dilemma, Parliament Speaker Chuan Leekpai ordered the matter to be investigated, only to face more public backlash from the protesters, mobilizing more support for same-sex marriage.
Since participation, inclusivity, creativity, and resilience works in an interconnected logic, Thai women, feminist, and LGBTQ+ groups also helped contribute to Thailand's pro-democracy movement in terms of resilience. First, by making the movement more inclusive, people are more likely to participate. Having more people means that the campaign can continue the struggle when the government deploys repressive measures.
Adding gender issues and reinterpreting politics helps ensure that the movement has something to talk about to sustain or put more pressure on the establishment. For instance, when leading activists were arrested in late 2020, the mothers of political activists known as Ratsamom organized various activities to call for their children’s release when political gatherings were difficult. When Panusaya ‘Rung’ Sithijirawattanakul was detained, the Free Feminists group launched a campaign to demand the rights of female detainees to be respected.
Creating safe spaces also helps to contribute to resilience. By creating Anonymous Meeting Points, Secure Rangers, and Krongkaokang, the feminist and LGBTQ+ groups have helped ensure that protesters can join a protest and return home more safely, making it more likely that they will join the next protest. When protesters are arrested, these systems mean that police cannot easily bring false charges. In coordination with other groups, this makes it more easy for legal teams to monitor and provide support.
Second, equipped with creativity, the movement has more ways to continue the struggle. Artistic expression has been beneficial in resisting police crackdowns. As cultural inventors, the LGBTQ+ communities made pro-democracy protests more colourful with fancy outfits. Ratsadance also used dance to reduce tension at protests so that they did not develop into riots. These measures do not prevent crackdowns by themselves, but the peaceful image of the movement can make it more costly to justify a crackdown on protesters, making repression more likely to backfire.
Mimi (alias), a 17-year-old gender equality activist, was also charged with violating the Emergency Decree and Public Assembly Act. Source: Prachatai
After all the struggles of 2020-21, none of the demands has been fully achieved. In only a few can progress be seen. Legalization of same-sex marriage has got nowhere. The Civil Partnership Bill was stalled after the cabinet “underestimated some of the very conservative voices that exist in the parliament”. Meanwhile, abortion has been legalized only within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and after almost two decades of campaigning, maternity leave was extended from 90 to 98 days.
These small changes come at the expense of criminal charges against activists. For instance, Jatuporn Saeoueng, an LGBTQ+ activist, was charged under the lèse-majesté law for allegedly impersonating the queen during the catwalk protest in October 2020. Mimi (alias), a 17-year-old gender equality activist, was also charged with violating the Emergency Decree and Public Assembly Act for giving a speech during a protest at Ratchaprasong intersection in Oct 2020.
The feminist and LGBTQ+ protests have revealed the harsh reality that patriarchy is in all domains of social life – even at protest sites. Many protesters also thought that the movement should focus on getting rid of the establishment first and address other reforms later. Therefore, not all pro-democracy protesters have welcomed the feminist and LGBTQ+ agenda into the campaign.
However, the feminist and LGBTQ+ groups have had so much to offer to the pro-democracy movement in Thailand. More internal dialogue is needed among the pro-democracy groups to stay united against the persistent authoritarianism in Thailand. The feminist and LGBTQ+ groups think that gender equality is indispensable in a democracy, and they must have their say.
“Straights who come should have learned and understood more about the problem of gender inequality and our demands, because in the end, the concept of democracy is that all human beings have equal rights,” said Sirabhob Attohi in an interview with Way Magazine after a big protest in Jul 2020.
“So if you understand the injustice that happens to the working class, why don’t you understand the injustice that women and LGBTQ+ have to face, even though it is the same inequality?” asked Sirabhob. “So we need to demand these things at the same time. We don’t have to set priorities of what is more or less important. We can fight all issues at the same time.”
Prachatai Editorial Team contributes to this report.Round UpLGBTpro-democracy protest
Community rights activist Khairiyah Rahmanyah, 18, said she received a summons from the Pathumwan Police Station for violating the Emergency Decree and the Sound Amplifier Act.
Khairiyah (centre) leading the march to Government House on 13 December 2020 (Photo by Ginger Cat)
Khairiyah, a 1st-year student at the Prince of Songkhla University’s Faculty of Communication Sciences, said that she has to report to Pathumwan Police Station on Friday, 7 January 2022. She was uncertain of why she was being harassed, said that she just wants to study like other people, and asked why it was no longer possible for people in the country to voice their opinions.
On 29 November 2021, Khairiyah came to Bangkok to follow up on an as-of-yet unfulfilled promise the government made in 2019 to reconsider a 16,700-rai Chana industrial estate project and conduct a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). She sat in front of Government House every evening for a week to remind the administration of its pledge, but received no response from the authorities.
On 6 December 2021, a group of Chana community members came to Bangkok to occupy the area in front of Government House to demand that the government keep its promises. They were arrested that evening at their camp and charged with violation of the Emergency Decree. Held overnight at the Narcotics Suppression Bureau, they were released on 7 December without bail on the condition that they not return to Government House.
After their release, the protesters occupied the foothpath in fronto fthe UN headquarters on Ratchadamneon Avenue for five days befor marching to Government House and occuping the nearby Chamai Maruchet bridge.
On Tuesday, 14 December, the cabinet finally issued a resolution to conduct an SEA, temporarily halting the Chana industrial zone project. The National Economic and Social Development Council was tasked with leading the SEA process. The results will be evaluated by Thaksin and Prince of Songkla Universities. The next morning, the protesters left for Songkhla.
When they were occupying the footpath in front of the UN headquarters, Khairiyah and several other young protesters from Chana participated in an event organised by the People Go Network. On 10 December 2021, she spoke on stage and participated in discussion circles about community rights issues at the courtyard in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC).
The Faculty of Political Science Student Union at the Prince of Songkhla University Pattani campus issued a statement last night (4 December) decrying the police action as a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) and an attempt to silence people exercising their constitutional right to demand justice for their community.
The Student Union also asked the university administration to stand by students who face harassment from state officials and support students fighting charges. They further asked that the authorities respect people’s rights and end unwarranted prosecutions.NewsKhairiyah RahmanyahChana industrial projectChana Rak Thin Networkcommunity rightsenvironmentfreedom of expressionfreedom of assemblyEmergency DecreeState of emergecy
A year and a half after the first mass protest at the Democracy Monument on 18 July 2020, the youth-led movement has expanded to include issues other than the 3 main demands, including labour rights, justice in the education system, land rights, LGBTQ rights and gender equality, restoration of religion, and problems in the government’s administration especially with COVID. They also began calling for monarchy reform.
Prachatai present a compilation of interviews with participants in the pro-democracy movement, which shows the diversity of the issues the movement is fighting for.
Protesters gathering at the Democracy Monument on 18 July 2020
- A compilation of interviews with participants in the youth-people movement which show the diversity of the shades of the dreams of this group of people. Other than the 3 basic demands, there are issues of welfare/labour rights; freedom/justice in education system; the right to land/a resource base; LGBTQ rights, feminism and anti-patriarchy; restoration of religion; and problems in the government’s administration especially with COVID;.
- Reflect back on 1 year of breaking the ceiling and the movement for monarchy reform from the perspective of Lawyer Anon.
- A compilation of almost a thousand cases of getting thrashed and accusations of overthrowing the system of government , revealing what protest observers discovered about protest suppression since the 14 Oct royal motorcade.
Anon Nampa spoke at the 3 August 2020 Harry Potter-themed protest. His speech was the first time monarchy reform was publicly addressed by the 2020 - 2021 youth-led movement.Until it became the 3 demands
The movement led by the young, students and the people, was later called the Ratsadon Group (‘People’s Group’). Going back to early 2020 after the Constitutional Court ruled to dissolve the Future Forward Party, students from various universities started to hold flash mobs to express their dissatisfaction with the political injustice. At that time, the events often took place inside the universities, and disappeared in early March due to the spread of Covid-19. The protests returned in June 2020 after the enforced disappearance of Wanchalearm Satsaksit, a political activist in exile . Activist groups responded to step out and call for Wanchalearm to be found, leading to various charges. On 18 July 2020, a large protest at the Democracy Monument, led by Free Youth and the Student Union of Thailand (SUT), issued 3 major demands: 1) stop intimidating the people, 2) dissolve parliament; and 3) amend the constitution.
- Student protests in Ubon Ratchathani and Chiang Mai echo Free Youth’s demands
- More students join wave of anti-government protests
- Despite resistance from universities, student protests go on
- Youth-led rally against the government in Chonburi
- Youth protests continue in Pattani, Ayutthaya, Pathum Thani, Khon Kaen
- Triam Udom and Kasetsart students rally against the government
The flash mobs then returned and spread across the country. An important marker was set down at the protest on 3 August 2020 led by the Mahanakorn for Democracy Group and the Kased Movement using the theme of Harry Potter. Anon Nampa, a human rights lawyer, made a speech demanding monarchy reform. He stressed that he wanted to convert the frustrations of the young protestors at that time, who often displayed signs or posted opinions on social network, which got them prosecuted or threatened, into a direct demand for the reform of the monarchy. Things became clearer on 10 August 2020 at the protest stage ‘#Thammasatwillnotendure We don’t want reform we want revolution,’ held at Thammasat University’s Rangsit Campus by the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration (UFTD) where the 10-point demand for monarchy reform was announced.
Student activist Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul read out the 10-point demand for monarchy reform during the 10 August 2020 protest.Important events before the 3 major demands
- 18 July 2020: Free Youth and SUT organised a protest with 3 main demands: 1) stop intimidating the people, 2) dissolve parliament and 3) amend the constitution
- 3 August 2020: At a protest led Mahanakorn for Democracy Group and the Kased Movement, Lawyer Anon made a speech about monarchy reform
- 7 August 2020: Free Youth’s 3 demands and 2 standpoints were launched. The demands were 1) stop intimidating the people, 2) draft a new constitution and 3) dissolve parliament. The standpoints were 1) there must be no coup and 2) there must be no national government.
- 10 August 2020: The United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration held a protest with 3 demands: 1) stop intimidating the people, 2) dissolve parliament, and 3) draft a new constitution; and 2 standpoints; 1) no national government, and 2) no coup. They also proposed changes in the relationship between the monarchy and Thai politics, or the 10 demands for monarchy reform.
- 16 August 2020: Free Youth held a protest with the same 3 demands and 2 standpoints as on 7 Aug, but adding 1 dream: having a “democratic form of government with the monarch under the constitution”.
- 19 September 2020: The UFTD held a protest to submit 10 demands for monarchy reform through the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Bureau of the Royal Thai Police.
- 8 October 2020: A united front of students and people from over 30 organisations gathered in the name of the Ratsadon Group to hold a large protest on 14 Oct to make 3 demands: 1) the resignation of Gen Prayut and his circle; 2) an immediate parliamentary session to accept the people’s draft constitution; and 3) reform of the monarchy so that it comes under the constitution according to a democratic form of government.
The press conference on 8 October 2020 announcing the establishment of the activist network 'Ratsadorn'
From then on, the regular 3 major demands were: 1) resignation of Prayut and dissolution of parliament; 2) a new constitution; and 3) monarchy reform.
This resurgence, not only in the increased number of protests and their geographical spread and in the increased level of demands, saw also an increase in prosecutions.
Prachatai interviewed activists, youth and those who were prosecuted since the start of the year to understand their perspectives and ideas. Other than the 3 headline demands of the movement, each group of protestors or activists has its own agenda to present, including their specific issues which they connect to the basic demands.Welfare state and labour rights
A welfare state or social democratic policies in administering welfare and allocating resources across the state is another topic that came under very intense discussion during the 2019 elections, when all political parties presented more policies on welfare. In the people’s protests there was more discussion, such as by We Fair, the Labour Network for People’s Right and the Workers’ Union.
Chanin Wongsri, a Thammasat student from the Puey Ungphakorn School of Development Studies, who was charged under Section 112 after reading the Thai-language declaration in front of the Embassy of Germany in the 26 October protest, gave an interview where he said his original interest in the welfare state was the Nordic Model of state budgeting, and on that day he talked about Section 6 of the Constitution and whether the budget for the monarchy is too much. If it’s too much, we should be able to criticise it. He raised the example of how much the U.K. monarchy budget was, and how the budgets of the monarchies of Sweden and Denmark were used. Then he said, ‘But in Thailand we can’t say this, because there’s Section 112, there’s Section 6, protecting the King. So then how will we know if this money is being spent effectively or not?’ At that time, they joked that they were charged under Section 112 for talking about a welfare state.
The reason Chanin is interested in the welfare state is because he read political and economic books, and studied life quality indices of various countries and found that people in the Nordic countries, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Iceland, have a good quality of life because they have comprehensive basic welfare state systems.Freedom and justice in the education system
In the recent movement, as well as university and college students, younger students also had important roles, such as the Bad Student group, Thai student, KKC Pakee Students and Reset and Revolution Education Thailand. So they were often seen campaigning alongside the Ratsadon Group and also holding their own regular activities, for example, calling for an end to intimidation of students, cancellation of outdated rules which oppress students, violate human rights according to international principles and diminish the human dignity of students, and reform of education to eliminate inequality, inaccessibility, poor quality curriculum, the burden of work on teachers, inappropriate teacher behaviour, among others.
The student rights activist group Bad Student staged a protest at the Ministry of Education on 5 September 2020.
Poisian (alias), a 15-year-old who was charged with violating Section 112 at the 20 March protest, said in an interview with Prachatai that during his high school days, he wants to push forward education issues, such as educational inequality. He wants all children to receive an equal education without needing to take competitive exams in order to gain educational opportunities. He himself had to struggle to pass an exam for his desired high school course, since his previous school did not have the course he wanted to take. He thinks that all children should be able to learn what they are interested in without needing to sit an exam. Thai education can be good; everyone needs to come out and help solve the issues together, not just students. In addition, we also need to fix structural issues and politics to push forward policies.Land rights and right to resources
The state and capitalist groups often have the power through the law to seize and take over the land rights of local people. This is reflected in policies and various laws such as the National Park Act, especially during the era of the NCPO which issued a ‘take back the forest’ policy. This affected the movement calling for opposition to these policies starting from policy implementation, or specific cases like the state eviction of the Bang Kloi Karen people from their land in Kaeng Krachan District, Phetchaburi Province, which resulted in an opposition movement under the name of the #SAVEBangKloi Party. They joined with the Ratsadon Group and many activists in Ratsadon campaigned to support this party, raising the specific issue of Bang Kloi, and also of land rights overall.
‘Hugo’ Jiratita Tammarak, a 23-year-old new generation activist in Ratsadon, was charged under Section 112 for making a speech at the 2 Dec 2020 protest at Ha Yaek Lat Prao. She is a member of the Isaan Land Reform Network and talked about the issue of land, which many often view as something distant and belonging to specific groups, whether the Bang Kloi Karen or the case of Den Khamlae, a village land rights leader in Khok Yao forest, Chaiyaphum Province, who was disappeared. But in reality, this is a structural issue which touches us all.
Jiratita Tammarak (left)
“Issuing laws which favour capitalists and the government has caused great trouble to communities – taking back the forest without ever looking to see who was already there before, or having no policy to support or compensate those whose land has been taken to mitigate their troubles.”
For the big picture on the monarchy, Jiratita thinks that it is an institution which owns a large amount of land in the country. It may not cover everywhere, but it is often used to accumulate capital, for power and as a factor of production, until it turns into socially structured inequality. She pointed to the declaration of land for royal projects or dams in many areas, where many villages were expropriated to build dams, with serious problems of compensation for the villagers.LGBTQ rights, feminism, and anti-patriarchy movement
Participants in the 7 November 2020 Pride parade holding a large Pride flag
This could be called the colour of this new generation movement in the issue of LGBTQ rights and feminism, led by the activist group Women for Freedom and Democracy, whose name was later changed to Feminist's Liberation Front Thailand, hoping to create awareness on gender equality. Participation is not limited to women alone, and they support the 3 demands of the Ratsadon Group but they must not have sexual harassment issues.
Mimi, a 17-year-old gender equality activist, became one of those charged with violating the Emergency Degree and Public Assembly Act after making a speech at a protest at the Ratchaprasong intersection on 25 Oct 2020. Mimi said that they started taking political action on the issue of gender equality together with Feminist's Liberation Front Thailand and Free Queer and Non-binary.
- ‘To be free from discrimination is human right’: a young activist’s fight for gender equality and democracy
Mimi was one of the organisers of the Sita Lui Fai performance, adapted from A Rapist in Your Path (Un Violador en Tu Camino) by the feminist group Las Tesis in Chile, which later was used to call for gender equality in various countries in opposition to sexual violence, a victim-blaming culture and patriarchy in society.
Mimi (second from right)
“I think everyone should be a feminist, because if we’re a real democracy, the people should be the ones in power. Everyone should be equal, no matter what their gender or class,” Mimi said.
“I think that the democracy we dream of is not just that everyone has the same amount of voice, but I think it is that whatever fundamentally is your gender, birth or mind, you should be treated equally.”Religious New Restoration
Within the Ratsadon movement, other than lay people, we also often see monks and new generation novices participating. They call themselves the ‘carrot gang’ or their official name, ‘New Restoration.’ They want the clergy to come out of the centralised state authority and adjust the structure so that monks self-govern, in accordance with democracy, heading towards becoming a secular state.
Young monks and novices are often seen participating in protests, and are often seen using the orange carrot dharmachakra symbol, since they have been called the "carrot gangs" by younger people due to the colour of their robes.
Monk Phra Chitsanuphong Phraiphari and Novice Saharat Sukkhamla, a student majoring in religious studies at the College of Religious Studies, Mahidol University, who are members of New Restoration, said that the ways monks are governed is a reflection of a political society that is not a democracy. Everything is centralised at the Sangha Supreme Council and the National Office of Buddhism. Some regulations also are not based on religious discipline, such as giving the absolute right to the temple abbot to govern monks under his care, using monks as a tool of the state, and discrimination under double standards. An issue this large needs considerable agreement within monk circles to be able to advance. The point is then whether the monks are ready or not to reform the Sangha Act and free themselves from the centralised authority of the Sangha Supreme Council.
Saharat was the first novice to be charged under Section 112 on 9 Nov 2021. He recently left the Buddhist monkhood and declared himself a ‘communist’ who will continue to advocate political and economic equality for the people, which capitalism cannot give.Problems in the government’s administration, especially with regard to COVID
Beginning on 7 Aug 2021, Free Youth gathered at the Democracy Monument to march to the residence of Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, which is located inside at the barracks of the 1st Infantry Regiment, King's Close Bodyguard, on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road, but the protest ended in confrontation with Crowd Control Police. Even when the protest leaders announced the end of the protest, police still used tear gas, rubber bullets and chemically-laced water cannons to suppress the protesters remaining in the Victory Monument-Din Daeng intersection area. Almost every evening after that there were regular independent protests around Din Daeng and Mitmaitri Road, held in the name of Thalugaz, to confront the police in the area. There were many injured, including Warit, a 15-year-old who was shot in front of Din Daeng police station on 16 Aug 2021 and passed away in hospital 2 months later. Many more were arrested and prosecuted; Thai Lawyers for Human Rights stated that at least 498 were arrested in no less than 167 cases.
A clash between protesters and crowd control police on 29 August 2021 (Photo by Nontawat Numbenchapol)
The admin of the Facebook page ‘Thalugaz’ (who later resigned), said in an interview that an evaluation by the frontline operations team found that participants in the Din Daeng protests are mostly from marginalised urban communities severely impacted by the government’s administration.
“They don’t have demands like other protests, such as ‘Prayut resign’, ‘new constitution’. It’s not this at all. Their demands are a new government, new people to govern, and vaccines. They want their parents to return to work.”
“The issue of individual survival is not one they need to crystallize from socio-political theories, but is something they are directly affected by,” the ‘Thalugaz’ FB page admin stated.
This is in line with the virtual seminar “Searching for meaning under the carpet; third generation youth at Din Daeng intersection” organised by the Youth Health Promotion Network together with the Child Youth and Family Foundation on 18 September. Ticha Na Nakorn, the then Director of the Baan Kanchanapisek Vocational Juvenile Training Centre for Boys, said that from following the news she found that some former Baan Kanchana children participated in the protests. There are many groups, each going there separately. Some invited others. But what they found was that 1) they are vulnerable groups affected by COVID, both themselves and family members who got sick, but their access to treatment is near zero – difficult, complex, and affecting their attitude, making them angry; and 2) household debt has increased, both old and new debt, and there are no jobs either.1 year the since the ceiling was broken and the movement called for monarchy reform
Anon Nampa reiterating his call for monarchy reform during the 3 August 2021 protest at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC)
On 3 August 2021, Anon spoke 1 year after raising monarchy reform. The movement crystallised principles of rights, freedoms, equality and democracy. On the direction of the movement, Anon confirmed that the movement can talk about monarchy reform at the same time as chasing Gen Prayut out of office. He does not agree with chasing out Prayut first. Anon reaffirmed that they must adhere to international standards of peaceful protest.
Anon reflected that in the 1 year of the movement they wanted to protect and improve the governance system and to warn groups that wanted to return Thailand to an absolute monarchy with the King as the Head of State, not to think of or carry this out, because if they talk about such a system as possible, then apart from democracy with a monarch as Head of State, there is a 3rd option as well, which is a republic. They have to talk about every option. There will definitely be some who choose absolute monarchy. As for the second option, there are also people who want democracy, who want to have a constitution that allows a monarchy under the constitution to be above politics, and who demand monarchy reform. But it must not be forgotten that there are also those who want equal governance for all, with direct elections, no god, no welfare state, where everyone is the owner or a republic. So do not force us to choose 1, 2 or 3 because if it comes to it, we all will vote in a referendum whether we want option 1, 2 or 3.Rising number of legal charges and accusations of treason
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said that between 18 July 2020 and 31 Oct 2021, at least 1,636 people were prosecuted in 896 cases. Of the 1,636, 258 are youths under 18-years-old. At least 154 people were charged under Section 112 in 159 cases. This Section was brought back into use after 20 Nov 2020, when Gen Prayut announced that all laws would be used to deal with protestors, including Section 112, although on 15 June 2020, Gen Prayut himself had said, “I want to tell Thai people that in today, Section 112 is not being used at all because the King, with his royal benevolence, does not want it to be used.”
The most frequent charge was violation of the Emergency Degree with at least 1,337 people in 553 cases.
Another obvious highlight came on 10 November 2021, when the Constitutional Court read its verdict on the speeches of Anon Nampa, Panupong Jadnok and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul at the Harry Potter-themed protest on 3 August 2020 near the Democracy Monument, which cast a spell to protect democracy, and the 10 August 2020 ‘Thammasat will not endure’, protest held at Thammasat University, Rangsit Campus. The Court ruled that their actions were an abuse of rights and freedoms aimed at overthrowing the democratic form of government with the King as Head of State according to Section 49 Paragraph 1 of the Constitution. The Court ordered the three, and their network organisations, to stop such actions in the future, using the authority under Section 49 Paragraph 2.
It is also interesting to note that besides prosecutions, protest suppression became something normal. Busarin Paenae, coordinator of Mobdata Thailand and an observer of the protests, told Prachatai in an interview that the first counter-protest measures were to limit protests, set conditions and file prosecutions under the 2015 Public Assembly Act, until the proposal to reform the monarchy caused the protests to grow. The incident which became an important turning point was the case of the royal motorcade at the Chamai Maruchet Bridge on 14 Oct 2020, which led to the declaration of the Severe Emergency Situation and the use of water cannon trucks and tear gas for the first time on 16 Oct 2020.
The Queen's royal motorcade passing through a group of protesters in front of Government House on 14 October 2020
However, in 2021 it was found that the government’s tactics changed. Although the nature of the protestors remained the same as in 2020, consisting of students, guards, red shirts or adult members of the general public, the state started to use more force and more unpredictably under the authority of the Emergency Decree. A small-scale protest with around 50 participants was countered by 200 police officers to arrest and remove protestors from the site. It has also become clearer that the police will strictly protect important locations, not allowing protestors to get near sites such as Sanam Luang, the Royal Palace or the headquarters of the 11th Infantry Regiment, King's Close Bodyguard.
“So on 8 February this year, there was a march from the Victory Monument to the 1st Infantry Regiment. From our observation, they gave no warning of what they would find if they went, but just that this gathering was a violation of the Emergency Decree. When the marchers arrived and were dismantling the container barrier to hold their activities, it appears that the police deployed and arrested them without any negotiations,” Busarin said,
“The protestors were still using last year’s protest method, which was to drag barricades to block the police once they have come, thinking that this will slow the police. But no, the police officers charged right away, and some people were trampled underfoot. After that rubber bullets were fired without any prior warning, even though protestors were still in a controllable state and hadn’t used any violence. The tension kept increasing, and we started to see that they were no longer negotiating with protestors.”FeatureStudent protest 2020pro-democracy protest 2021activiststudent movementPopular movementPro-democracystate violencejudicial harassmentfreedom of expressionfreedom of assembly