A number of pro-democracy activists were arrested at Tuesday’s rally for attempting to mark the fourth anniversary of the 2014 coup with protests. Earlier, many individuals across the nation faced various forms of intimidation and harassment by the authorities.
Since the pro-election group “We Want to Vote” announced that it would hold a protest at Thammasat University on 21 and 22 May to mark the fourth anniversary of the 2014 coup, the police and military made various efforts to obstruct the event.
Last week, Achara Rakyutitham, a humanities lecturer at Silpakorn University, revealed on Facebook that police officers searched for her on campus to find out whether her students would join the 22 May protest or not. Since Achara was not in the office, the officers asked to see a university staff member and tried to take a picture of her but she refused.
“Like people of all professions, university lecturers have multiple tasks such as research, preparing lectures, making exams, scoring exams etc, which require privacy and focus. Therefore, I cannot accept the ethics of an intrusion like this,” Achara posted. “The officers should not knock on my door just like a salesman. This is a way of communicating that is disrespectful, backward and out of date.”
As 22 May approached, the junta came up with harsher measures. Last Sunday, Anon Nampa, a prominent anti-junta activist, posted on Facebook that soldiers had arrested Uthai Phokaeo and his wife at their house and detained them at a military camp in Bangkok. The authorities released the wife that evening and freed Uthai a day later.
Although the authorities have not revealed their reason for the detention, Anon guessed that it was because Uthai rented out loudspeakers to previous pro-election protests.
Last Saturday, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported that 50 police officers searched the house of a protester, Kunlawadi Dichan, in Pathum Thani. She is an activist who is facing charges for joining another pro-election protest outside the Royal Thai Army Headquarters in late March.
When Kunlawadi asked to take a photo of the search warrant, the authorities refused, saying that she had no right to do so and might face a cybercrime charge if she published it online. After searching the house, the authorities said that they would follow her for another 24 hours to make sure that she would not join the protest at Thammasat University.
In addition to Kunlawadi case, the TLHR reported that the authorities also launched similar intimidation of individuals who have the potential to participate in the rally in other provinces of Thailand including Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, Ratchaburi and Kamphaeng Phet. The intimidation varied from repeated visits to overnight detentions and the victims include a student, a doctor and an environmentalist.
In an attempt to discourage other people from joining the rally, the Deputy Police Chief Pol Gen Srivara Ransibrahmanakul ordered security checkpoints set up and claimed that the red-shirt movement planned to bring heavy weapons to the protest.
Thammasat University also cooperated with the authorities to sabotage the protest. On Monday, the university closed down its football field, which was planned as a protest site, to apply fertilisers and pesticides. The organisers then decided to stay overnight near Gate 3 of the campus.
A night before the march kickoffs, one of the leaders We Want to Vote, Nuttaa Mahattana, told Prachatai that 'she could be taken away in the night at any time' given that she already face five sedition charges at the time. However, the fact that the protest would be 'under the eyes of the press, international observers and human rights watch’ made herself and the protesters feel safer.
Despite this intimidation, about 200 people gathered at Thammasat University on the morning of 22 May to join the march to Government House. Upon leaving the campus, police officers formed a barrier to prevent the rally from reaching the main road and asked the protesters to disperse. The police also repeatedly played the theme song from a soap opera on their loudspeakers in an attempt to disrupt the protest leaders’ speeches.
The protesters pleaded with the authorities to let them continue with the march, saying that they would disperse immediately after reading a statement at Government House in commemoration of the coup, but the authorities refused.
After negotiations failed, the protesters separated into two groups. One, led by Rangsiman Rome, Sirawith Seritiwat and Piyarat Chongthep, stayed with the protesters in front of Thammasat, and the other, spearheaded by Nuttaa, Chonticha Jaengrew, Anon Nampha and Ekachai Hongkangwan, circumvented the security forces outside Thammasat and began a march from the Democracy Monument to Government House.
The police intercepted the latter group at the UN Building and arrested the four leaders. The other three subsequently surrendered to the police. The authorities arrested 15 individuals in total and filed five charges against them. They also asked Thammasat University to file another complaint against the protesters for destroying public property by breaking the university’s gate, but Thammasat refused, saying that the damage is minor.
The authorities search a red-shirt activist’s house
Parts of this story was covered by Adele Colbey, an intern at Prachatai English