After Thailand’s 12th military coup took place on May 22, the climate of fear from summons orders, detentions and arrests of activists has been mixed with the happiness exuding from the “return happiness to the people” events that have been organized in provinces throughout Thailand in the past weeks.
The events, run by the military’s Social Psychology Operation Unit, have provided free food, dancing women, free massage and health check-ups for the people, with its theme song playing in the background.
“Today the nation is facing menacing danger.
The flames are rising.
Let us be the ones who step in, before it is too late”
The military-composed song titled "Returning Happiness to the People"
As stated in the National Council for Peace and Order’s (NCPO) mission statement, the junta aims to “coordinate viewpoints and seek common ground among people with different opinions,” and “create an appropriate environment for the Thai people to live harmoniously.”
Shortly after the coup, the NCPO set up reconciliation centres in every province aimed to “dismantle” the colour-coded politics that has deeply polarized Thailand for at least eight years, in order to bring unity to the nation.
The military has organized activities in provinces throughout Thailand to bring local red and yellow leaders to “reconcile”. The activities included having breakfast together, playing traditional running games, having lunch, and playing with water balloons. This was followed by taking oaths to uphold the benefits of the nation, as well as group hugs and photos.
Last week in northern Lampang, the military bought all the seats in a cinema to have the red and yellow political leaders, police and military officers watch “The Legend of King Naresuan” together. The NCPO will also provide free screenings of the film for the public throughout the country on June 15, when the weekly “happiness” event will also take place at Lumpini Park in Bangkok.
The film Legend of King Naresuan is known for its glorification of patriotism. The history is that King Naresuan, reigning in the Ayutthaya Kingdom from 1590 to 1605, freed Siam from Burmese rule and greatly expanded Siamese territories. He was therefore regarded as one of the most revered monarchs in Thai history.
“As Thais, we must show five fingers instead of the three-finger salute,” coup maker Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha said last Friday, criticizing the symbol widely used among the anti-coup protesters.
“Two for the nation, one for religion, one for the monarchy and one for the people,” he said in a nationwide junta’s weekly TV show.
He also said that the music, games and fun will create a “relaxing atmosphere” for the people from each side of the divide to talk more easily.
Despite the happy photos in the news portraying opposing political leaders hugging and smiling, the junta’s recipe for reconciliation seems far from successful. On the ground, some people still express their objections to the coup, whether with three-finger salutes, sandwiches or sheets of A4 paper. And many have been arrested for that.
“My happiness is not like this. This is a fake happiness and reconciliation!” said one 67-year-old woman who only wanted to be known by her nickname Dang. She joined the student-led, anti-coup protest at Thammasat University on Sunday.
“My true happiness is to let us decide what to do, to let us watch what we want to watch. What they need to return is our dignity,” she said.
Since May 22, the military have charged nine people in connection with the anti-coup protests, while some were charged after being investigated following summons orders. At least 470 people have been summoned and arrested as of June 11, according to the Thai Human Rights Alliance, a network of volunteers documenting cases after the coup.
Aside from well-known academics, activists and journalists, the NCPO has also summoned behind-the-scenes people like a cook at a red shirts’ food tent, a person who provides food for political prisoners and recently also a witness of six deaths at Wat Pathum in the 2010 political violence.
Even though the authorities told the public that the summons and questioning process was “peaceful means” and “harmless”, the people summoned experienced intimidation and at least three persons were charged under the lèse majesté law, one of the country’s most draconian laws, after being summoned.
Activists who had been summoned told Prachatai anonymously that they were interrogated in front of at least ten officers whose identities were not revealed. The officers asked them opinions about the monarchy, the coup and explained the necessity for the military to carry it out.
During the investigation, they were asked about their involvement in a play deemed by the authorities as defaming the monarchy, “The Wolf Bride,” played by an activist group during October Remembrance Week held at Thammasat University last year.
One activist was forced to log into his Facebook account and let the authorities browse through his activities and examine which groups of people he was connected to. Another, an independent online broadcaster who was thought to film that play, was also forced to give his Facebook account to the military. The officers checked his Fanpage where he put up hundreds of clips on political events and seminars.
“They thought if I filmed the play then it could be used as evidence,” he said. “I know they wanted to get some charges against me.” He was released after seven days of being detained at the 11th Infantry Regiment in Bangkok.
Other people were not so lucky. Chaleaw J, summoned in the same batch as the activists, was charged with lèse majesté, Article 112 of the Criminal Code. After being investigated three times he had to undergo a lie detector test twice to prove that he was not another online DJ who was seen as defaming the monarchy.
Chaleaw is now detained at the Bangkok Remand Prison. His crime was to upload some sound clips alleged to violate Article 112 onto the 4shared website. He will most likely be denied bail, like any other lèse majesté detainees in the past, and be tried in the military court where an appeal is not possible.
In the meantime, the NCPO continues to boost nationalist sentiments in society, education and culture. It has come up with a short film competition with the theme “Uniting Thailand as one.” The required content must reflect on the struggle between political groups and offer solution for the Thais to have higher morale and live together harmoniously.
Short film by the NCPO encoraging young people to show respect
to the nation's forefathers by standing still during the national anthem
The NCPO itself has also produced a number of short films encouraging the people to stand still during the national anthem to show “respect for the forefathers.” Similarly, the song “Return happiness to the people” is being played throughout the days before TV announcement or hourly news on the radio, broadcasting the message from the army:
“All we ask of you is to trust and have faith in us
The land will be good soon
Let us return happiness to you, the people”