On Tuesday morning, Oct 5, 1976, an ultra-rightist group called the ‘Housewives Club’ held a demonstration at the Royal Plaza to protest the government in light of the crisis caused by Field Marshal Thanom’s return. The protest went on until almost the afternoon when someone raised the issue of a photograph of a re-enactment that had been staged by Thammasat students at noon of the previous day, Oct 4. This portrayed the hanging of two electricians in Nakhon Pathom who had been protesting against Thanom. A photograph of the scene was published on the front page of the Bangkok Post the following day. The protesters claimed that the face of one of the students who took the role of a hanged electrician resembled that of the Crown Prince, and accused the students of lèse majesté.
Within a few hours, ultra-rightist groups quickly spread this unfounded allegation, in particular through the right-wing Dao Siam newspaper and the military Yan Kroh radio station. The latter relentlessly incited listeners from the afternoon of Oct 5 through to the morning of Oct 6, calling for a heavy-handed suppression for the students, and arousing anger and hatred among listeners to the point of using mob rule against the students. Dao Siam published its afternoon edition in an increased number of copies, which were distributed all over Bangkok, with the photograph enlarged to almost occupy the whole front page. On its Oct 6 morning edition, the headline read ‘Crown Prince’s Dummy Hanged’. Note what a lie this agitation was based on, because the imitation of the hanging was played by real actors.
The Students’ Centre of Thailand held a press conference to issue clarifications about the re-enactment -- which was in fact an activity of Thammasat students, not the Centre, -- insisted that they welcomed any legal investigation by the authorities, and made an appointment to meet the Prime Minister the next morning.
But what happened from the afternoon of Oct 5 to the morning of Oct 6 was the huge mobilization of armed paramilitaries by the ultra-rightists. Their masterminds realized that if the students were allowed to explain to the authorities and the public, and follow the due process, both legally and politically, their lies would fail, because it was not difficult to prove that the play was only about the killing of the electricians in Nakhon Pathom, and had nothing to do with the royal family, since the face of the actor was in no way made up to resemble that of the Crown Prince.
So the masterminds rushed to mobilize the paramilitaries and certain state armed forces under their direct control to besiege Thammasat University from the night of Oct 5, and sporadic attacks started late that night. And before dawn on Oct 6, they ordered their forces to attack the university in full force.
What followed was the most brutal, horrible massacre in Thai contemporary political history.
We should be able to take for granted that, 3 decades after the massacre, instigation against political opponents using accusations of lèse majesté should never happen again.
Over the past few years, however, the Manager Group’s newspaper, radio and ASTV and the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) have revived this political ploy to persecute their foes.
Right from the start, they trumped up the threats to the ‘royal prerogatives’, and they vowed to ‘fight for the King’.
The campaign grew ever more intense and deceptive until in May 2006 they fabricated the story of a ‘Finland Plot’ by the Thaksin camp, allegedly to undermine the monarchy. But as of then they dared not accuse their enemies outright of wanting to establish a republican Thailand, but rather used insinuation.
At that time, they said that there was a plot to make the monarchy just ‘symbolic’. Although, in fact, this was purely fabricated, how is being a symbol of a modern nation with 60 million people ‘offensive’?
The Manager-PAD talked as if Thailand was still an Absolute Monarchy, in which to describe the monarchy as ‘being symbolic’ constituted lèse majesté.
This ‘official’ fabrication was supplemented by numerous unfounded rumours that were circulated on the internet. For example, it was rumoured that inside Government House there was a computer command centre spreading information offensive to the monarchy on the internet through a satellite system.
Nevertheless, the ‘lèse majesté’ propaganda of the Manager-PAD in 2006 pales when compared with that of this year in terms of the degree of falsehood, and the possibility of damage done.
This year, Chai-anan Samudavanija wrote in the Manager newspaper that some people wanted to establish a republic, while during the fabrication of the ‘Finland Plot’, he did not dare say ‘that’ for sure.
The Manager-PAD’s invocation of lèse majesté has gone so far as to become absurd and paranoid. For example, the case of Thaksin’s name on the Thai national flag at a soccer match in the UK has been blown up by the anti-Thaksin camp to become an issue of national security.
These people have never learnt from history.
The degree of insanity in conjuring another ‘re-enactment of the hangings’ has reached a dangerous point.
On the night of April 29, a host of the Metro Life radio programme on Manager Radio asked who, between the slaughtering ultra-rightists and the students was really to blame for the Oct 6 massacre in 1976, and said that the killings were perhaps the ‘right thing’.
Furthermore, they implied that the Oct 6 massacre was perhaps necessary, because if it had not happened, Thailand would perhaps not have been peaceful as it is now, and would probably be full of those who insult the monarchy.
‘Had the Oct 6, 1976 incident not happened, would the country have been what we have known now, with many people like Chotisak in society?’ said one of the hosts.
What was that, if not a justification for cold-blooded massacre?
On the same radio programme on the following night, the hosts even suggested that attacking Chotisak, making his head bleed, would be subject to a fine of only 500 baht. And they received phone-ins to their programme for suggestions to attack Chotisak, with one caller suggesting punching Chotisak in the face with a battery inside the fist.
I’m calling for a condemnation to the Manager-PAD’s ‘Dao Siam-Yan Kroh’ stance.
The Manager-PAD is pushing Thai society backward to 3 decades ago.
Political conflicts must be dealt with by rational dialogue, not incitement with accusations of lèse majesté to lead to violence to suppress differing views, the way the Manager-PAD has been doing.