Song battle at Army Headquarters

At 9.30 today (20 February), political activists Ekkachai Hongkangwan and Chokchai Paibulratchata held a demonstration at the Royal Thai Army Headquarters in response to army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong’s order to broadcast the controversial Cold War anthem ‘Nak Phaen Din’ (‘Scum of the Earth’) on all army radio stations and over the intercom at military headquarters. On Monday 18 Feb, the army chief cancelled the order. 

The army chief's order was a response to Pheu Thai's campaign to end military conscription and decrease the defence budget. Prayut Chan-o-cha, the Prime Minister, also responded that conscription and the budget was necessary in case a war happened. 

(Source: Banrasdr Photo)

Written by an army colonel in 1975, as the right-wing reaction to the 1973 overthrow of the military dictatorship gathered pace, ‘Nak Phaen Din’ is associated in many people's mind with the 6 October 1976 massacre at Thammasat University. It was broadcasted repeatedly on the army’s Tank Corps Radio both before and after the event. The song describes the type of people who should be seen as national enemies and therefore should be eliminated. It dehumanizes political opponents, and is therefore associated with polarized politics, violence, and a traumatic point in modern Thai history.

Ekkachai and his group brought a large teddy bear and a folded chair, and attempted to recreate an iconic image of the 6 October massacre by hanging the teddy bear to a tree in front of army headquarters, similar to how a student’s body was hung from a tree and beaten with a folded chair. However, police officers surrounded them and confiscated the teddy bear. Ekkachai then played the song ‘Prathet Ku Mi’ (‘Which is My Country’) by the rapper group ‘Rap Against Dictatorship’ on a small speaker and pretended to beat Chokchai with the chair, imitating the music video, which in turn incorporated the iconic photo taken by Neal Ulevich of a corpse hanging from a tree being beaten with a chair and surrounded by a cheering crowd. The police then retaliated by playing the patriotic song ‘Khwam Fan An Sung Sut’ (‘The Impossible Dream’) before taking Ekkachai and Chokchai into custody.

Read more about ‘Prathet Ku Mi’:

It was also reported that, while being escorted out of the van at Nang Lerng Police Station, Chokchai attempted to run away, but was subsequently caught by a police officer and brought back to the police station:

Before Ekkachai and Chokchai’s demonstration, student activist Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, along with other members of the Student Union of Thailand, also went to the Army Headquarters to read an open letter to the Army Commander in Chief protesting Gen Apirat’s comment on ‘Nak Phaen Din.’ Parit said that he thinks Gen Apirat may not fully understand the content of the song and he would like to explain why the Army should not broadcast it.

(Source: Banrasdr Photo)

“’Nak Phaen Din’ is a song which attacks political opponents and frames them as undermining the society and accuses them of serving foreign powers, but having different opinion is normal in a democratic society. It is not that strange,” Parit said. “The content of this song caused hatred and has the intention of framing political opponents as scum of the earth and dehumanizing fellow citizens, and may lead to violence. In the past, this song has been used to create hatred and violence on many occasions, and I would like the Commander-in-Chief to stop broadcasting it.”

Parit, along with Tanawat Wongchai, another student activist, was also taken into custody. Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported that they were charged with failure to notify the authorities at least 24 hours prior to holding a public assembly, as required by the 2015 Public Assembly Act, along with Ekkachai and Chokchai.  They denied all accusations and asked to testify in court. Parit later posted on his Twitter account that this is not a political demonstration, but that the event was intended to educate Gen Apirat on why it is inappropriate to broadcast ‘Nak Phaen Din’.

Ekkachai and Chokchai were also charged with unauthorized use of a loud speaker and were given a 200-baht fine before the four were released from custody.