One step back, three step-ups

Caption: On 22 October, Patsaravalee ‘Mind’ Tanakitvibulpon is released. As she was arrested at night on 21 October, the protesters said that the government was not sincere in resolving the current political conflict. Source: Voice TV

Immediately after Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha took one step back by lifting the severe state of emergency, the government stepped up 3 actions against citizens - accusing the protesters of inciting violence, arresting activists and public figures, and paving the way for yellow shirt protesters and ultraroyalist terrorists.

One step back

Caption: Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha gives a speech on 21 asking everyone to "take one step back." Source: Thaigov

At first glance, it may look like Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha was sincere in resolving the political conflict in Thailand. He gave a speech on 21 October asking everyone to “take one step back”. On his end, he lifted the severe state of emergency after 6 days of enforcement, largely ignored, from 15-22 October and called for a special session of parliament on 26-27 October to debate the crisis.  

The cancellation of severe state of emergency was another victory for protesters who publicly defied it for 6 days straight by staging large demonstrations nationwide. In his failure to portray the protests as illegal, violent, and anti-monarchy, it looked like he had actually taken one step back.

As he lifted the severe state of emergency, Gen Prayut asked in return for the protesters to respect the law. The protesters should express their opinions through the proper channel, which he identified as the current parliament which resulted from a questionable election and the dissolution of two main opposition parties.

“There is only one way in which we walk forward past the problem sustainably,” said Gen Prayut. “Of course, it needs to be done by talking to each other, by respecting the legal process, and by seeing the needs of the people which are expressed through the parliamentary process. This is the only way.”

The image of the government taking one step back was slightly reinforced after the temporary release on bail of two activists. On 22 October, Patsaravalee ‘Mind’ Tanakitvibulpon was released after being detained at night on 21 October for violating the Emergency Decree on 15 October.

Jatupat “Pai Dao Din” Boonpattararaksa was also released a day later by order of the Court of Appeals after being detained on 13 October on 12 criminal charges. The two activists are the faces of the democratic movement. The release of activists is one of demands from the protesters. 

Step 1: Accusing protesters

At the same moment that the PM took a step back, his government stepped up 3 actions. The first attack can be found in Gen Prayut’s speech itself. He mentioned “dark power no matter where it comes from.” He also accused the pro-democracy protesters of using violence against police, even though he admitted that majority of the protesters had been peaceful:

“We have seen very depressing actions against the police. There was an assault against the police with large metal pliers and many more forms of violent behaviour against the officers, with the intention of harming our own Thai people.” 

There is footage from 16 October showing a protester actually using a large pair of metal pliers when confronting police, but it only hits the shield of an officer whose body was protected by riot gear. Claims of other violent behaviour are not supported by the evidence.

Gen Prayut also did not mention that the police used water cannon with dye and a chemical irritant against peaceful protesters on that day.

His letter requesting a special parliamentary session on 27-28 October does not in fact push forward constitutional amendments as the protesters have demanded. Instead, he plans to use parliament to discredit the protesters.

According to the letter, the topics which will be discussed in parliament include difficulties in controlling Covid-19 because of the protests, and the encounter between the royal motorcade and protesters which has led to charges of allegedly harming the Queen’s liberty.

The government, according to the letter, is also concerned that the protests have persisted despite the use of water cannon. Some of the protesters are alleged to have been “violent” in removing the King’s portrait from public places.

These actions, the government claims, may pave the way for violence from third parties and other groups who disagree with the protesters.

Step 2: Arresting individuals

Even though the Prime Minister has cancelled the severe state of emergency, crimes allegedly committed during the period of its enforcement are still being prosecuted.

Public figures who still face a summons for violating the severe state of emergency include Sombat Boonngamanong (political activist), Thossaporn Serirak (doctor and political activist), Sirote Klampaiboon (Voice TV host), Pannika Wanich (of the Progressive Movement), and Attapon Buapat (political activist).

Caption: Sombat Boonngamanong, a political activist in Thailand, holds a flash mob at McDonald's Ratchaprasong on 25 October before he has to report to police on 27 October. Source: Sombat Boonngamanong

These individuals have been summoned for violating the ban on public gatherings of more than 5 people. They have to report to the police around 27-28 October.

Others remain in jail including Anon Nampa, Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, Panupong Jadnok, Parit Chiwarak, Ekkachai Hongkangwan, and Somyot Pruksakasemsuk.

Politicians and student activists have taken legal action against the severe state of emergency to have its enforcement declared invalid. The court will read the verdict in a case filed by the Pheu Thai Party and the Democrat Party on 28 October, while the students’ case will be decided on 19 January.

Three cases were filed against Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, and chief of the Royal Thai Police Pol Gen Suwat Jangyodsuk for their allegedly illegal actions in announcing the severe state of emergency.

Step 3: Open the way for yellow shirt protesters and ultraroyalist terrorists

The cancellation of the severe state of emergency means that the yellow shirt protesters can hold demonstrations more easily with sponsorship from the state.

Immediately after the ban on public gatherings of more than 5 people was cancelled, the ruling Phalang Pracharat Party held a press conference on 22 October saying that they had made a decision for their MPs to hold pro-monarchy activities in every province of Thailand.

The government coalition parties together announced on 18-19 October that they would insist on three commitments: upholding the monarchy, improving people’s livelihoods, and supporting constitutional amendments but without touching Chapter 1 (General Provisions) and Chapter 2 (The King).

The unelected senate also held an event on 22 October to show their “stance to protect, defend, and uphold the monarchy as the main and important national institution”.

On 23 October, the yellow shirt protesters gained indirect support from the monarchy when King Vajiralongkorn thanked ultraroyalist protester Suwit Thongprasert, who was well known as Buddha Issara before he was defrocked and found guilty of kidnapping plainclothes police officers.  

It has been revealed that the government organizes royalist events by “inviting” or “asking for cooperation” from civil servants, villagers, and community members. In Songkhla, for example, a leaked document showed a list of 819 participants closely related to the state apparatus including village and subdistrict chiefs, students, and Village Health Volunteers.  

Caption: A leaked document, this one from Songkhla, showed a list of participants closely related to the state apparatus.

With sponsorship from the government, ultraroyalist terrorists may think that they can get away with violence and are therefore more likely to bring their violent activities into the public realm.

Yellow shirt protesters have already assaulted pro-democracy protesters on two occasions. On 14 October, footage showed yellow shirt protesters assaulting several pro-democracy protesters and a motorcycle taxi driver who tried to separate the two groups.

On 22 October, a freshwoman student and protest leader Thitima Butdee, 19, filed a police report after violent yellow shirt protesters injured her at a protest site at Ramkhamhaeng University. On 23 October, the police held a press conference saying that they would “give justice to all parties.”

Caption: Thitima Butdee, 19, answers the questions from the press about the assault by violent yellow shirt protesters. Source: Ramkhamhaeng Network for Democracy

On 21 October, a group of violent yellow shirt protesters were seen with a vehicle with the Phalang Pracharat Party logo on it as they took their time to lift police fences separating them from pro-democracy protesters. They then ran to assault the pro-democracy protesters, who moved their protest site to Hua Mak Police Station, avoiding confrontation and asking for protection from the police.

On 22 October, a Twitter user found the Facebook post of a man with guns saying that “Perhaps it is time for me to do my duty to defend the nation, religion, monarchy, and the land of my birth. See you at the main protest on the evening of the 23rd. Now you are born, do not waste your life. I am Thai, born in the land of Thais.”

Fortunately, there was no use of lethal weapons on 23 October.

Caption: Photos of a man with weapons posted on Facebook with a nationalist statement saying that he would show up at the protest on 23 October. Source: @joe_black317

The Oxford Dictionary defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.”