Speech justifying violence against activists must stop

The blatant and vicious assault in broad daylight against Sirawith Serithiwat by four men on Friday 28 June is the second in a month. His injuries appear to be quite severe, with delayed responses and two open wounds over the right eye and on the head, a broken nose and damage to the right optic nerve system making him unable to see with that eye. It has yet to be confirmed if his blindness is permanent.

Sirawith Serithiwat

Source: Prachatai

While he was being transferred to Mission Hospital, where he has medical coverage, after initial treatment at Navamin hospital, many public figures demanded an end to political violence no matter who the target is. This is the 11th political assault since 2018, and public sentiment is growing more intense as progress in all investigations is next to zero. Justice delayed is justice denied, and the Thai state's failure to bring the perpetrators to justice only encourages impunity and a license to harm and kill.

The assaults against political activists have been so numerous that a pattern has emerged. Masked men on motorcycles assault activists in a public space, or sometimes even in their own house. This indicates that they know where the activists live and their movements. The assailants are systematic and skilled at following people unobtrusively, the assaults are carried out quickly and effectively, and the perpetrators get away immediately.  No matter who is responsible, this qualifies as terrorism, defined as the use of violence which aims to generate fear in the general public for political purposes. And when the Thai state fails repeatedly to prevent the assaults, the term 'state-sponsored terrorism' starts to become appropriate.

While Prachatai English joins other public figures in demanding an end to violence against activists, and calling on the police to take more effective measures to halt the impunity, we are more concerned with an issue often underestimated: hate speech that justifies assaults against activists. After every assault, we observe thousands of highly contentious comments on social media. Many comments say the activists deserve what they get, or even find enjoyment in their suffering. Others attempt to discredit the activists by asking if they staged the assaults themselves for political or financial gain. A minimum of common sense will show this last accusation is very unlikely.

But we are more concerned with the implication of such comments. We know that authoritarian governments like Thailand's rarely listen to the voices of the people, but public opinion matters because it can pressure state institutions to do their job. Any opinion which discredits the integrity of the activists or devalues their right to basic personal security makes it easier for complacent, and maybe complicit authorities to sleep at night and let the assaults continue. A culture of violence is allowed to ferment and this justifies the on-going impunity.

There are, at the same time, many good signs to be seen. Public figures across the spectrum have become involved in the movement to stop political violence, including Ramet Rattanachaweng of the Democrat Party, Paradorn Prissananatakul of the Bhumjaithai Party, and Suriyasai Katasila of the Action Coalition Party, all of whom are in the government coalition. On social media, users have become more active in combating hate speech. A campaign asking everybody to donate 247.5 baht in support of Sirawith has gone more viral than ever. (The figure commemorates B.E. 2475 (1932), the year of the democratic revolution in Thailand.) However, thousands of hate comments remain. It is particularly alarming that one of these was posted on Facebook by Phalang Pracharat MP Siripong Rassamee. His comment was "he deserves more." He has since deleted the post.

Disagreeing with, or even disliking the victims of these assaults is perfectly acceptable and a natural part of a democratic, rights-based society.  But they have the same human dignity as your friends, your families, and yourself.  Eliminating violence should be the goal of everyone, of every side, of every party.  And under the current government of Thailand, it will only happen when everyone raises their voice.