Students on alert after rumours of imminent arrest of protest leaders

Students at Thammasat University’s Rangsit campus kept watch through the night around the Jpark student hall, after Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul and Parit Chiwarak, leaders of the Student Union of Thailand (SUT), posted on their Facebook profile pages last night (12 August) that they were being stalked by plainclothes police officers and were concerned that they were about to be arrested.

At around 22.20, Panusaya posted that she was told there were officers waiting in front of her student hall ready to arrest her and Parit, “because he is very angry,” while Parit also posted that there were plainclothes officers in front of his student hall and that he heard that there are orders out for them to be arrested within that night.

Panusaya also posted “I stand by the principle that what I said is something that we should have been able to do for a long time now, but we have never been able to do because we have always been oppressed by power.

“Whatever happen, I ask everyone not to get demoralized. The barrier that used to press down on us, I have already kicked away for you. I ask everyone to take advantage of this and keep on fighting for the future of us all.

Feudalism shall fall. The people shall prosper.”

The hashtag #SavePanusaya topped the trend on Twitter as netizens showed their support and called for public attention on the incident, while Panusaya herself asked people use #FightWithPanusaya instead.

“Don’t save me. We have saved each other enough. If anything happens, I would like everyone to stand up and fight, fight against the system that oppresses us, fight against the institution that has always done things to us. Can everyone #FightWithPanusaya?” she tweeted.

The JPark student hall at around 01.25 on Wednesday night. (12 August) 

Meanwhile, Thammasat University Student Union issued a warning for other students to stay in their rooms and said that “student security guards” have been dispatched to the student hall where Panusaya and Parit are staying.

At 00.22, the Student Union posted on their Facebook page that a police car was seen around an overpass near one of the student halls, which the Khlong Luang Police Station said was part of a routine patrol unit. Prachatai also contacted the Khlong Luang Police Station, and was told that they were not aware of any operation and have not been notified of the situation.

The Student Union later posted that five cars were seen driving around the halls, that the university administration had been informed of the situation and campus security personnel had also been dispatched to the scene. Meanwhile, Parit said at 02.00 that he was still seeing men with cropped hair and strange cars around his student hall.

Around 02.10, the Student Union said that the officers were dispersing. By this time, the incident had already gained significant attention on social media. Nevertheless, one of the students standing guard outside the student hall said that there were still 4 men who looked like plainclothes officers around the area.

In addition to the “student security guards” sent by the Student Union, around 30 students and university professors voluntarily came to monitor the situation at the two activists’ student hall and kept watch around the building through the night.

The student volunteers stood guard in front of the hall and periodically patrolled the area. One of the volunteers, a student from the Faculty of Law, said that there were also students staying with Panusaya and Parit in their rooms for safety, and that students were blocking the entrance to the building in case there was an arrest. He said that if an official tried to enter the building, they would be asked for an arrest warrant or a court warrant. If there was a court warrant, they would stay and witness the operation. If there was no warrant, they would try to stall the arrest.

The student also said that there were two police cars parked opposite the student hall, which he presumed to be the same unit the Khlong Luang Police Station said was a routine patrol unit, but they had left the area.

There were also rumours of a clash between police officers and the student volunteers, which were confirmed to be false. Another student volunteer said “we only clashed with mosquitos.”

One of the student volunteers keeping watch at the JPark student hall

As of 16.00 on 13 August, there had been no police operation. Panusaya left the student hall at 7.30 to go to class. Following a recommendation by a lawyer from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), she will be traveling to class with other students, who will be with her at all times.

Panusaya thanked the students who came to monitor the situation and said that she herself also did not sleep. She said that she believes that what she did was within the bounds of the freedom we should have, so she has to get over fear and live as normal. However, if she is arrested, she will be seeking bail, but if the court forbids her from speaking or joining a political activity as a condition for bail, she will not accept it.

Panusaya’s lawyer has explained her rights to her in case she is arrested, telling her that officers need to have an arrest warrant, and if she is in a building, they will also need a search warrant that clearly specify the location they are searching. The names of the officers who are arresting her will also need to match the names on the warrant.

If there is an arrest, the lawyer said that the officers will have to inform her of the charges she is arrested for, and cannot take her to be held at any other place but the police station where the case was filed. They also cannot confiscate her mobile devices if she is not charged under the Computer Crimes Act.

Panusaya before she went to class this morning, surrounded by fellow students. 

Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division Senior Researcher Sunai Phasuk also came to monitor the situation. Sunai said that none of the students’ demands broke the law, but may have caused discontent among a certain group of people, so there needs to be a process of creating understanding within society.

“During Human Rights Watch’s observation process, where we have been following the situation since 18 July onwards until the largest event ever on 10 August at Thammasat Rangsit, we did not find that the language used on the stage was outside the bounds of peaceful expression of opinion,” Sunai said. “These are the bounds of rights and freedoms protected under international agreements, which is the covenant on civil rights, and which are protected under the Thai constitution.  So it is something that should be done and should even be protected by the state. The state has a duty to make sure that citizens, whether they agree or not, can express their opinion safely and without fear, without concern that they will be attacked by the law or attacked with violence.

"The demands are not illegal and are not against the constitution, whether it be Section 112 or Section 116. They do not constitute those offences. They are not insulting or threatening to the monarchy. They have not incited unrest or violence. Because of this, I do not see where the speeches break the law. It’s just that it might not sit well with a number of people, so there should be a way of creating understanding within society which has now been greatly agitated through the use of distorted information to claim that what was said in the speech infringed on the monarchy.”

Sunai, who has been at the scene since 06.00 this morning, also told TLHR that he has already coordinated with the United Nations and several other embassies, and that the international community is watching.

Panusaya gave a speech at the demonstration at Thammasat University’s Rangsit campus on 10 August. She also read out the organisers’ statement calling for monarchy reform, while insisting that their demands are made in good faith and they are not intended to topple the monarchy. 

Both Panusaya and Parit are on a list of activists being targeted for arrest alongside human rights lawyer Anon Nampa and student activist Panupong Jadnok after they took part in the mass protest at the Democracy Monument on 18 July.

They were also accused of violating the Emergency Decree for organizing a demonstration demanding justice for missing activist in exile Wanchalearm Satsaksit, which they did not acknowledge, and of violating the Cleanliness Act from their white ribbon campaign to protest against Wanchalearm’s abduction.

Other youth activists also reported that they were stalked by officers. Totsaporn (last name withheld), one of the 31 activists targeted for arrest after taking part in the 18 July mass protest, told Prachatai that a group of unidentified people came by his apartment asking for him and showing his neighbours his picture.

He also said that a friend told him that a group of people out of uniform but with the cropped haircut of a police officer have been driving past his apartment for the past few days. They also asked the apartment security guard to check inside the building and took pictures of the CCTV camera.

TLHR also reported that Papatcha Boosung, one of the speakers at the 10 August demonstration, said she has been followed by officers since the night of 10 August after her speech. She also said that, during the morning of 11 August, three cars-full of police officers and plainclothes officers of unknown affiliation visited her family at home to pressure them into disclosing her whereabouts, as Papatcha has already left home and was staying at a safe place. Her school has also called in others who are involved to pressure them for information, one of whom was only 12 years old.

Papatcha said that her family told her that there were uniformed and plainclothes police officers around their house from morning until noon on 12 August. She said that she felt unsafe and is now concerned for her family’s safety.

SUT president Jutatip Sirikhan, who is also on the list of activists being targeted for arrest, said that she saw a police car parked near her residence yesterday (12 August) as she was returning from an errand, even though she did not join the demonstration on 10 August. She said that she is now in a safe place and that there is no cause for concern for her. She also insisted that they will be going ahead with the upcoming demonstration on Sunday (16 August).