The new anti-coup wave and Isan people: how anti-coup becomes trendy again

In reaction to the May coup d’état, many people took to the streets of Bangkok and elsewhere during the first few weeks to protest against the coup-makers. The voices of these political dissidents, especially those of the anti-establishment red shirts, however, eventually died down after many of them were arrested, detained, and charged harshly under martial law, imposed since 22 May. 
 
It has been six months since Gen Prayut Chan-ocha declared the military coup d’état. The arrests of anti-coup protesters during the first month of the coup and the summonses and detentions of politicians, activists and journalists seemed to succeed in creating fear among Thais, so that they stopped resisting and lived their lives normally. 
 
Anti-coup protest in central Bangkok's Siam Square in June
 
Six months of life under the junta and martial law has proved that it affects not only people who are against the coup. 
 
The junta’s policies, reforms and proposed bills touch on various issues including education, energy, natural resources, land reform, forestry, immigration, education and tax. It has become clearer that the junta’s direction of reform definitely benefits some groups of people while negatively affecting others.  The junta has also prepared several controversial bills to be passed by the rubber-stamp junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA). However, martial law prohibits people who are negatively affected by the junta from expressing their concerns and opposition. Every attempt to speak has a high cost. People who organize rallies have been detained, interrogated and forced to sign an agreement that if they stage any political activity again, they will be prosecuted by the military. Some need to ask for permission if they wish to travel abroad. Activities that did not involve Thai politics were also monitored and interrupted and some were banned. Examples include Amnesty International’s event calling for peace in Gaza, a meeting between a lawyer and her clients, a cultural event, and a panel discussion featuring a pro-military Democrat party member.  
 
When arresting organizers and banning such activities, the military usually say that anyone who wants to have a say in reform should submit a letter to the junta’s appointed National Reform Committee (NRC) and if anyone wants to complain, they should submit their complaint to the Interior Ministry’s Damrongtham Centre. Any other attempts to voice opinions are strictly prohibited.
 
 
Student activists organizes anti-coup activity at Thammasart University, Thaprachan Campus, on 29 May 2014
 
This strict censorship policy has been applied equally to all colours, even against the activists who initially supported the coup to overthrow the Yingluck Shinawatra government. Several seminars were banned even though they were organized in a constructive manner and joined by supporters of the coup. 
 
"If anyone disagrees with the NCPO, they have the right to think that way. But they cannot express that [disagreement], strictly," Khaosod English quoted Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, Deputy Prime Minister and a member of the junta's National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), as saying.  "The government is currently working to build reconciliation. We don't want any disputes," Gen. Prawit told reporters today.
 
The frustration from censorship led to a group of 12 NGOs and 16 activists from Thailand’s Northeast to issue a statement in early November, calling for the revocation of martial law. As expected, the activists were summoned and faced harassment. Nevertheless, a handful of human rights organizations were not deterred by the news of harassment and issued statements condemning the junta, echoing the call for martial law to be lifted. This has become a pattern of one act of harassment leading to others becoming more and more courageous and striking back.
 
The anti-coup wave reached its peak last week, thanks to the new generation. Last week, five student activists from Khon Kaen University in the Northeast gave the three-fingered salute to Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha while he was giving a speech for civil servants. Immediately, the military detained and interrogated them. The military used their parents and threatened that they would be fired from the university if they did not accept the conditions of the junta. 
 
They were finally released without charge -- safe and sound-- with some not even accepting the conditions. This courageous act broke the barrier of fear created by martial law and inspired many others, especially student activists, to follow. It also created a chain of activities of several groups of people calling for the release of the Khon Kaen student activists and the revocation of martial law. This also coincided with the sixth month anniversary of the coup. 
 
The courageous act by Khon Kaen student activists
 
The Northeast, also known as Isan, was a stronghold of the red shirts and Thaksin Shinawatra. Although the red-shirt movement has died down since the coup due to harsh repression, the new anti-coup wave which kicked off in the region has proved that people in this region are still the most politically active in the country. 
 
 
The timeline of the anti-coup wave 
 
In this timeline, Prachatai put together a record of the people's anti-coup activities and how the junta is using martial law to suppress them. 
 
*Note: the timeline does not include political dissidents, such as red shirts, who have been charged with offences under the criminal code, including Article 112, also known as the lèse majesté law. 
 
 
October 16: Education for Liberation of Siam, and organization of a group of high-school students who have been campaigning against the junta’s controversial education reform centred on the nationalistic 12 Thai values, submitted an open letter to Prayuth Chan-Ocha the head of the junta to reconsider the education reform agendas based on a defined set of morality and nationalistic values. Later on 23 October, the military tried to intimidate the group  by calling the director of the school where Nattanan Warintarawet, the group leader, is a student, and asked about her whereabouts and the group’s activities.
 
 
 
Nantanan (second from the right), the secretary general of Education for Liberation of Siam (ELS),  reads the ELS's stance in front of the Ministry of Education on 14 October.
 
October 24: The military harassed Boonyuen Siritum, a consumer rights and energy reform activist and former senator at her house in a bid to suppress rallies on energy reform. Boonyuen, however, insisted that she was not involved in the rallies.
 
November 4: 12 civil organizations based in Isan, the northeastern region in Thailand, issued an open letter titled ‘No Reform Under the Boot of the Military’ to denounce the junta’s legitimacy, the National Legislative Assembly, the National Reform Council, and the imposition of martial law. The statement accused the junta of using the martial law to limit public participations in national reform while trying to issue policies, which benefit the investors rather than the poor. 
 
November 5: The military and police officers came to observe a conference on Human Rights and the Constitution, in a bid to harass northeastern NGOs and activists many of whom were believed to be the signatories of the an open letter entitled ‘No Reform under the Boot of the Military’, drafted earlier against the junta’s imposition of martial law and reform agenda.
 
 
 
Police and military officers negotiate with the organisers of the conference on human rights and constitution on November 5 in front of the conference room
 
November 7: After the open letter ‘No Reform Under the Boot of the Military’ was publicized, at least eight signatories of the draft were forced to report themselves to the military at local military bases. This included one activist who was captured by fully armed soldiers and briefly detained earlier at a military camp. Some were also forced to post statements on Facebook that they were treated well under detention.
 
November 9The Northern Peasant Federation organized rally to urge the junta to abolish the “Return the Forest” policy, which affected thousands of poor people who have been evicted from protected areas. The rally, however, was forced to be cancelled by the military.  Four participants of the rally, including Prapart Pintobtang, a political scientist from Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, were briefly detained by the military.
 
 
 
Military police detain Prapart Pintobtang and put him in a prison vehicle on November 9
 
November 12: Land rights activists in Chiang Mai from Northern Peasant Federation planned to wear the group’s t-shirts with a message reads “First step towards land reform in Thailand” to a meeting with ML Panadda Diskul, the Minister of the Prime Minister’s Officer, to discuss land rights and land reform. The military, however, tried to force the group not to wear the t-shirt. On the same day, the military also prohibited the villagers from the northern province of Lampang to participate in the same meeting.
 
 
 Military officers negotiating whether the activists can wear the t-shirts or not on 12 November. 
 
November 14The military pressured the executives of Thailand’s Public Broadcasting Service (Thai PBS) to remove Nattaya Wawweerakhup, host of the “Voices of the People that Must Be Heard Before the Reform” , program who allegedly asked questions, which led people to make negative remarks against the junta. Earlier, during the program, Nattaya talked to villagers and activists of southern Thailand criticised the junta.  The alleged problematic question is that Nattaya asked the villagers whether they felt frustrated with the coup -- the coup they once paved the way for.
 
November 15The military forced the cancellation of a planned cultural event ‘Our land...whose land?’ with a mini concert and talks by Sulak Sivaraksa, a renowned social critic, and Pasuk Pongpaijit, a respected political-economist, because the junta was paranoid that the event would touch on political issues
 
November 16: The military and police detained at least four activists after they held a silent press briefing on the forced cancellation of the ‘Our land...whose land?’, a planned cultural event with a mini concert and talks by Sulak Sivaraksa, a renowned social critic, and Pasuk Pongpaijit, a respected political-economist. The military cancelled the event out of fear that it might be related to politics. 
 
November 18Students from Kasetsart University in Bangkok organised rally against the construction of Mae Wong Dam in the east of Bangkok. However, many police officers came to monitor the event and used the martial law to force the students to abort the rally.    
 
 
 
Police officers temporarily detain students planning to stage a rally against the construction of the Mae Wong Dam on 18 November at Kasetsart University, Bangkok. (photo courtesy of Abhisit Sapnaphapan)
 
November 17: The military summoned Kritsakorn Silarak, an activist from the People’s Movement for Just Society (P-Move), to a military camp in order to close down his personal Facebook page and a community Facebook page called, ‘Together, let’s open the gates of Pak Moon Dam forever’, citing that the Facebook pages bring discomfort to the authorities. Kritsakorn, however, refused and said that he would be willing to go to the ‘attitude adjustment camp’ if the military want him to.   
 
November 19Five student activists from the Dao Din group, a student activist group based in Khon Kaen University in Thailand’s Northeast,gave three-fingered salutes and wore t-shirts with a message reading ‘No to the coup d’état’, in front of Prayut Chan-o-cha, the head of the junta, while he was giving a speech in Khon Kaen Provincial Hall. They were later arrested and detained at the military camp. The military tried to force the five to sign an agreement not to get involve in any future political movement. However, only two out of five conceded to the order. 
 
November 19 An activist from Thai Volunteer Service Foundation posted and shared an anti-coup picture of herself taken on a mountain peak in Chiang Mai among friends. In the picture, she and her friend held the banners read “No martial law and No National Council for Peace and Order”. She was arrested the next day and reported that the military tried to force her to sign an agreement not be participate any political movement in the future and threatened that she might be detained for seven days if she failed to do so. She however refused to sign and was released without charge.
 
Siriporn Chayphet and a friend hold a sheet of paper reading “No Martial Law” and “No NCPO”. The sign below reads “Peak of Chiang Dao Mountain, 2,225 metres above sea level.” The spot is for tourists to take photos as souvenirs of their visit.
 
November 19: The police pressured cinemas in downtown Bangkok to cancel screenings of ‘Hunger Games 3’ after the five Khon Kaen student activists were detained for giving the three-fingered symbol derived from the movie to defy the junta’s leader.
 
November 1911 students from League of Liberal Thammasat for Democracy (LLTD), a student activist body of Thammasat University, organized a symbolic supper at the Democracy Monument in central Bangkok in support of the five Khon Kaen student activists who were arrested earlier for giving three-fingered salutes. They were arrested and detained briefly before released without charge.
 
 
LLTD members at Democracy Monument eat supper and flash three-fingered salutes
 
November 20: Khon Rak Ban Koed (KRBK) (People Who Love Their Homeland), anti-mine village activist group from the northeastern province of Loei, put up banners and took pictures of the act to support five Khon Kaen students activists who were arrested from flashing three-fingered salute in front of Prayuth. The were later summoned by the military to discuss about the group’s connection to the student activists and mining issues.
 
 
KRBK members taking pictures on Thursday. The placard reads, "To our children, Dao Din, looking for the path to Democracy, we stand with you", to support five arrested Khon Kaen student activists
 
 
November 20: The military banned ‘Land, disparity, tax: the step we have to choose’, an academic seminar on the Thai economy and income disparity and told the organizer that the matter can only be discussed with the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). The military also told the owner of the Reading Room, the planned venue in downtown Bangkok, that she need to ask the authorities for permission before holding any future event.
 
 
 
Five military officers visits to the Reading Room and tell the library owner she needs to ask for permission for any future event. 
 
 
November 20: A cloth banner, read “Government stop harassing university students” was put up at a pedestrian bridge at Kasetsart University, Seri Kaset, student activist group, based at the university condemned the arrest of Khon Kaen University students, praised them for their courage. It also urges the NCPO to lift the martial law and return democracy to Thai people as soon as possible.  
 
A cloth banner, read “Government stop harassing university students” was put up at a pedestrian bridge at Kasetsart University 
 
November 20: Student activists from Burapha University, Chonburi, urged the junta to stop intimidating students and give moral support to the Khon Kaen student activists.
 
Burapha student activists hold banners read "Stop intimidating students", "Free our brothers. Stop harass student", "Support for our brothers in Khon Kaen," "Free the five Khon Kaen students."
 
November 20: Three people in Chiang Mai took pictures of himself and two others flashing a three-fingered salute to support the Khon Kaen student activists. One of them was then arrested and only released after being coerced into signing the military-drafted agreement not to engage in political activity again. The military later tried to find the other two suspects in the photo, threatening that they would visit their houses. Later, the rest turned themselves in on 23 November.
 
 

Nitipong Samrankong (left) and two others flash the anti-coup salute at Thapae Gate, Chiang Mai on Thursday

 

 

November 20: A student activist gave three-fingered salute and showed a placard read "Prayut is President Snow" at Siam Paragon department store.

 

A student activist give three-fingered salute at Paragon Cineplex

 

 
November 21 A group of student activists called ‘Paradoxocracy’ based in Burapha University of the eastern province of Chonburi ‘Rights organized a seminar called ‘Freedom of the People in the D_m_c_a_y era’, which was scheduled to be held on 24 November. However, the military stormed into the university and forced the students to cancel the event, citing that they were not comfortable with what its title suggested.
 
 
 
Military officers come to the university and 'asked' not to allow the event to be held.
 
November 24: The police arrested eight student activists at Thammasat University after they distributed leaflets featuring a poem by Chit Phumisak, the late Thai poet and communist rebel, which reads "In an era of darkness, rule is by the gun, but people will still be people." The poem has become a talk of the town recently after Somak Jeamteerasakul, Thammasat historian, who now lives in self-exile in France, featured the poem on his Facebook cover.
 
 
Student activists distribute anti-coup leaflets at Thammasat University, Tha Prachan campus.