To protect the monarchy, the head of an ultra-royalist group has made an announcement asking volunteers to infiltrate protests and take pictures of participants. While Maj Gen Rientong pledges to “end the future” of young protesters by creating a blacklist of individuals that Thai society must ban, legal scholar Sawatree Suksri offers guidelines for protesters to defend themselves.
On 28 July, Maj Gen Rientong Nan-nah posted on Facebook the launch of an “Extinguish the Future Project” where he aims “to create a list of individuals which companies, government agencies, and educational institutions must ban from being employed, enrolling for study or receiving scholarships.”
Maj Gen Rientong instructed his ultraroyalist volunteers to infiltrate demonstrations and take pictures of individuals participating in the protests. “Try to take pictures which show their face enough for us to track down who they are. Just that is enough.” He also asked the volunteers to send the pictures to his email so that he can distribute the list to various public and private agencies.
Maj Gen Rientong, the head of the ultra-royalist Rubbish Collection Organization, said that he will not receive any donations for running this project. In a later post, he said that his enemies “were showing up like crazy” after he posted about the project. He also said they save him time because he no longer has to send volunteers to take their pictures. Calling them “stupid” and “deluding themselves into believing they have future,” he said he was not afraid of them. However, he also asked them not to report his page. “If you’re so cocksure , send your name, surname, where you study, where you work as well,” said Maj Gen Rientong.
The anti-youth measure has begun with Mongkutwattana Hospital, which his family owns and where he is the current director. He said that all job applicants must show their social media record to the human resource department if they want to get a job. “If you have wicked behaviour, this place will not accept you. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that the new generation has any value. They are just the stupid filth of the earth.”
Established in April 2014, the Rubbish Collection Organization (RCO) has been one of the most hard-line in combating lèse majesté speech on the internet. Maj Gen Rientong is a former operations director of the Army Medical Department. He joined the conservative protests which overthrew Yingluck Shinawatra’s elected government in 2014. Recently, he was appointed as an advisor to the Prime Minister with regard to reducing the social and economic impacts of Covid-19.
His initiative has caused a huge controversy in Thailand. While conservative hard-liners have been in favour of his project, many took to social media to say they do not share his ultraroyalist sentiment. Ticha na Nakorn, Director of the Baan Kanchanapisek Vocational Juvenile Training Centre and former member of the junta’s National Reform Council, posted on Facebook that “there should not be even a single adult in this country who thinks about extinguishing the future of young citizens who are our children and grandchildren.” She also asked the Prime Minister if he was proud of his advisor’s project.
Intira ‘Sine’ Jaroenpura, a Thai actress and singer, also posted on Twitter that this discrimination may violate Section 27 of the Constitution which guarantees everyone equal rights and liberties before the law. Companies who imposed such sanctions may also lose partnerships with international corporates. Sombat Boonngamanong, a high-profile political activist, asked on social media whose future is more gloomy, protesters with a pro-junta record or those with a pro-democracy record.
According to Sawatree Suksri, a law professor at Thammasat University, protesters have the legal right to defend themselves. On her Facebook post, she provided guidelines on how to respond to people surreptitiously trying to take their pictures. Anyone who is misled by Maj Gen Rientong into taking their pictures without permission can be charged under Section 397 of the Criminal Code with a light penalty of at most a 5,000 baht fine.
“Nudge and tell your friends or people nearby to help each other to dissuade them or give them a warning,” said Sawatree. “If they do not listen and persist, have these individuals held “politely”. Let me say again that you should do this as politely as possible. Don’t be rude or use force against them (other than for the purpose of being able to hold them, inviting them to accompany you to the police station or collecting evidence to confirm the offence. This is to protect yourself from them prosecuting you in return on other grounds).”
If the police do not accept your complaint, Sawatree said protesters can charge them for negligence under Section 157 of the Criminal Code. However, the act of negligence should also be witnessed and recorded. “You have to systematically ask that officer for their reasons (you can also record a video clip) and confirm your grievance about how you feel threatened by referring to Rienthong's post and show it to them.”
Although Rienthong’s volunteers can be charged, Sawatree said the mastermind will still be able to evade any lawsuits. Section 85 which prohibits misleading people into committing illegal actions does not apply to offences with penalties less than 6 months in jail. This means Rienthong will get away with it while his volunteers have to face the penalties alone. However, a lawsuit is not the only way to take him down. “Even though criminal offences cannot apply, on issues of morality, medical ethics, the relevant institutions should do something about it.”