“We are the people!” student-led protest demands activists’ release

A student-led protest took place at the Pathumwan Skywalk on Saturday (8 August) to demand the release of human rights lawyer Anon Nampa and student activist Panupong Jadnok, who were arrested on Friday (7 August) and then released on bail.

Protestors flashing the three-finger salute as they surround the police officers and pushing them away from the protest leaders. 

The protest, led by the Free People Group, many of whose leaders are on a list being circulated on Friday night of protest leaders now targeted for arrest, took place at the Pathumwan Skywalk following the arrest of Anon and Panupong, who were accused of sedition and violation of the Emergency Decree among other charges.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported that there were around 30 – 40 police officers deployed in the area before the start of the protest. As the protest was starting, they made an announcement ordering the organisers to end the protest as they had not given prior notification to the authorities according to the Public Assembly Act.

At 16.15, the police formed a line blocking participants from the organisers while a group of officers spoke with the organisers, as the crowd shouted “stop harassing citizens!” while flashing the three-finger ‘Hunger Games’ salute, now a well-recognised symbol of resistance seen at every protest in Thailand.

The protestors were also booing and shouting “Police get out!” and “We are the people!” as they pushed the officers out of the centre of the protest, while the organisers carried in a cardboard cutout of a red bull.

One of the organisers gave a speech in front of a cardboard cutout of a red bull.

One speaker shouted “We are not afraid and we will not take it anymore” and asked the crowd to sing “Do You Hear the People Sing?” with her while flashing the three-finger salute.

One speaker at the event announced that she would like to invite every new graduate not to join their graduation ceremony.

“I would like to invite every graduate not to join their graduation ceremony. Graduation ceremonies cost a lot of money. Graduation day is an expression of success for us and our families, therefore there is no need for us to go into an auditorium. There is no need for us to join a ceremony. We go to the event and take pictures with our family and friends. I would like everyone to go to the event but to not enter the auditorium. We can receive our certificates from our teachers, from our parents, from the people who pay to send us to university. We don’t need flowers or gifts. Let’s bring blank pieces of paper and take pictures together as a symbol that this year we will not join the graduation ceremony.”

Another speaker announced a campaign inviting new graduates to not join their graduate ceremony. 

University graduation ceremonies in Thailand often cost a large sum of money for the graduate, including the cost of the graduation gown, hiring a photographer, and travel costs for those who live in another province from their university. Universities also often impose strict dress code for graduates, specifying even hair colour and nail polish colour. Many trans students also face obstacles in getting permission from their university to dress according to their gender identity. University degree certificates are also, in most cases, conferred upon the graduate at the ceremony by a member of the royal family.

Approximately 1000 people joined the protest, which persisted despite the rain which fell for most of the event. Protestors were seen with placards saying “If we burn, you burn with us,” “This is the song of angry people,” “Look here Anon, the people are on your side,” and “Dictatorship cannot give you gender equality.”

Some of the signs seen at the protest. The first one says "Look here Anon, the people are on your side." The fourth one says “Dictatorship cannot give you gender equality," while the last one says "The more you tramble us into the ground, the more beautiful we grow." 

‘Missing person’ posters for Somchai Neelapaijit and Wanchalearm Satsaksit, both victims of enforced disappearance, were also seen around the protest area. The posters, made by the student group Spring Movement, who has also made digital copies of the poster available, are now a common sight at many protests currently springing up across the country.

'Missing person' posters for Somchai Neelapaijit and Wanchalearm Satsaksit

Representatives of the student rights group Bad Student also spoke about high school students facing harassment from their schools when they try to organize a demonstration.

“Many schools said they are neutral, but I would like to ask you, between dictatorship and democracy, do we still need neutrality?

“Rules like cropping our hair are not a measure of how good you are. Little things like these are what make us used to having our rights violated.

“I want to encourage every student who wants to organize a demonstration and faces harassment and threats. We must not fear dictatorial power.”

Representatives of the Bad Student group speaking on stage. 

Around 17.00, the organisers announced that Anon and Panupong had been released on bail, and the crowd cheered loudly.

Other student activist leaders also joined the protest, including Sirawit “Ja New” Serithiwat and Jatupat “Pai Dao Din” Boonpattararaksa.

Jatupat also spoke on stage near the end of the protest. He said that, after 6 years, the people are still oppressed and harassed. The authorities are using the sedition law and the disease control act to control the people. He also said that the fact that there are so many students out protesting shows the growth of the pro-democracy movement.

“I am 10th on the list of people to receive a warrant, but I think I’m not afraid,” Jatupat said. “Who is really afraid? The people who are arresting us are the ones who are afraid. They are afraid of the truth, of the truth no one dares to speak, but everyone is enlightened now, right? Today they are trying to press down on our freedom. We must help defend it. Don’t let anyone oppress you. This is human dignity. If you are human, it is enough for you to come out.”

Protest leaders now targetted for arrest appeared on stage. 

Protestors flashing the three-finger salute at the end of the protest

At 19.30, several protest leaders whose names appeared on a list of those targeted for arrest appeared on stage. The organisers then asked participants to join them at the protest scheduled for 16 August at the Democracy Monument. They then asked the participants to turn on the flashlights on their phones and flash the three-finger salute as they shouted “we won’t stop until the dictator’s power is gone”, before ending the protest.