Harry Potter-themed protest at BACC demands monarchy reform

A year after the Harry Potter-themed protest at the Democracy Monument, which was the first protest in 2020 to address issues of the monarchy, people gathered in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) to once again call for monarchy reform.

A banner at the protest saying "failed state"

The protest, which was again Harry Potter-themed, took place at 16.00 on 3 August at the courtyard in front of BACC. Police officers stationed around the area set up checkpoints at the stairs around the Pathumwan Skywalk and searched the belongings of those who came in and out of the skywalk area.

At 16.00, officers from Pathumwan Police Station came to read out the restrictions under Article 9 of the Emergency Decree, which bans gatherings of more than 5 people or events with a risk of spreading Covid-19.

Thatchapong Kaedam giving a speech at the protest

Activist Thatchapong Kaedam gave a speech saying that last year’s protest broke the taboo that prohibited people from speaking about “the one who cannot be named.”

Thatchapong said that the upper class and the network which support “Lord Voldemort” and various “dark powers” have been living in comfort while the people suffer, and those who fight do so at the cost of their lives, rights, and freedom, but the only remaining option is to fight to the death for the future.

He then said that the movement is a people’s revolution, that they will create a new system that truly belongs to the people, and the people will no longer be separated from the state.

“Whoever wants to get rid of the dogs, go ahead, but we have to say that Lord Voldemort, or the dogs’ owner, is the problem,” said Thatchapong. “We cannot let this transition just change one dog for another, right?”

He then asked the participants to hold up their hands in the three-finger salute, now a well-known resistance symbol in Thailand, and chant the “Expecto patronum” protection spell.

The speaker from Kasetsart University

A student from Kasetsart University then gave a speech saying that since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, taxpayer’s money has been spent to support the elite and purchase weapons, while people are being left to die.

She said that her classes have been online for the past two years, while she has never received financial assistance from the government until the recent tuition fee reduction. Meanwhile, the Faculty of Veterinary Science, Kasetsart University, signed a 20-million-baht construction project to build a reception room and offices for members of the royal family, as well as facilities for their dogs, but students still have to pay for their lab equipment and conduct their lab classes in hot rooms and medical staff have to work constantly. She said that if taxpayer’s money is used properly, there wouldn’t be such a high death toll.

“The tax money that should have been used to reduce inequality were instead used to increase inequality. What they did to us is the devaluation of people’s lives, is teaching us a lesson and keeping us down so that we don’t act equal to the royals. They teach us in schools to love the monarchy, but they’ve never taught us that human lives are valuable, they’ve never taught us that we have rights and a voice and that we should be heard from the pain that is caused by the structure which oppresses us,” she said.

She said that people should join workers’ unions, because workers are the ones who build the nation, not kings, and that they are not going to tolerate anyone who points their weapons at the people.

A participant holding up a picture of Anchan Preelert 

Amnesty International Thailand also set up a location at the protest for people to write letters calling for the release of Anchan Preelert, who is currently serving her sentence under the royal defamation law, or Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code, of 43 years and 6 months in prison, the longest sentence ever given under Section 112.

Meanwhile, posters were handed out during the protest inviting people to join another protest on 7 August, which Free Youth, the organizer, said will take place at the Democracy Monument before marching to the Grand Palace.

The protest ended at 19.30, following a candlelit vigil for victims of Covid-19 and the government’s mishandling of the pandemic. 

Anon Nampa repeats his call for monarchy reform

Anon Nampa gave his speech dressed in costume from the Harry Potter film series

Human rights lawyer and activist Anon Nampa, who gave a speech exactly a year ago calling for monarchy reform and open criticism of the crown, gave a speech at yesterday’s protest re-affirming his call for reform.

Anon said that since the 3 August 2020 protest, he spent half his time in prison, but there is a reason for everything, and that he is happy to join the fight. For the past year, the students have taken to the streets to speak out about the issues facing the country. He said that, while the movement for monarchy reform has had some successes, one can also say that it has just begun, as they faced strong opposition at the end of 2020.

He also mentioned how only a handful of people in yellow shirts gather to meet the royal family at events, and while young people are finding knowledge on the internet and learning from people like Somsak Jeamteerasakul and Pavin Chachavalpongpun, the military sent in personnel to teach school students about what the monarchy has done for the Thai people. But Anon said that it was not successful, since the students all flashed the three-finger salute.

“This movement is called a reform movement, but you have to accept that by its implications and meanings, it is a movement for the revolution of Thai society, revolutionizing it so that there is equality. Those who called for gender equality stood up to change the society’s old ideas, so that there is gender equality in this society. We change the way we see the kings from being rulers of our lives, being sacred and untouchable, to being human and equal to us,” Anon said.

The protesters’ call for monarchy reform has been widely covered by both local and international media, which Anon said led to the widespread discussion of the monarchy budget and how the king transferred state property to himself. He noted how those who call for monarchy reform are being prosecuted while their demands have not been met. Instead, he said that the government declared war on them by indiscriminately using the royal defamation law.

Protesters flashed the three-finger salute during Anon's speech

He said that the movement must make its three demands at the same time, since it would not be possible to achieve their other demands without monarchy reform, as it would not be possible to get Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha to resign because he believes he has the support of the King.

Anon questioned the close relationship between Gen Prayut’s government and the monarchy, as well as the king’s alleged ownership of the Siam Bioscience company, which has been licensed to produce the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. He asked why the government is using taxpayer’s money to buy vaccines from a company which has been losing money and has no experience producing vaccines.

“Not bringing in good vaccines for us immediately, they are cruel enough to watch us die on the street. They are pitiless enough. If you’re going to die, then die. Wait for the royal vaccine. If you’re going to die, just die. This is their ruthlessness,” said Anon, who speculated that, if people have access to the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccines, the AstraZeneca vaccine won’t sell.

He also said that, even though the Chulabhorn Royal Academy is able to import the Sinopharm vaccine, it is still not very effective, and that the world has changed, so people are no longer feeling grateful to receive the vaccines, which has been sold to private organizations while the Academy distributed it with the label ‘royal vaccine’.

“Humanity is not waiting for scraps that you give away on your birthday. If you have power, if you have the ability, you can just bring them in to give away and give it to people. You don’t have to wait for your birthday,” Anon said. “Now that we have the knowledge, and we learned from the internet that there are good vaccines, why didn’t they import any? The government set up conditions to make it difficult, for the reasons I gave, to wait for the royal vaccine.”

Anon said that now that the protesters are demanding Gen Prayut’s resignation, it is unavoidable that they have to talk about the monarchy, and that it is not surprising that protesters are burning the King’s image, because they are expressing their disagreement with what has been said and done, or with having to wait for vaccines. He said that burning images or burning effigies is still nonviolent, as it does not hurt anyone.

“The younger generation, those who grew up later, do not believe stuff about humans and gods. They believe that people are equal, but they are still being tolerant because they believe in nonviolence. If they shoot, and the police shoot back, if they’re not hit, then their friends would be hit, and the course of our struggle, compared to what the state does to us, I declare that the protests will use the highest limits of nonviolence. Don’t threaten to declare martial law. If you see the people as adversaries, as enemies, go ahead and declare it. You’ll see what we can do, because everyone today is now cornered. If you don’t fight, don’t come out, then wait for death at home. If you don’t fight, don’t come out, there’s no way they’ll bring in good vaccines. So we’re fighting together to create our future” Anon said.

A participant came to the protest dressed in costume from the film series

He said that the movement this year will be more structured. Other than protests and speeches, they will also propose legislation to the parliament, as well as proposing the repeal of Section 112.

He said that they want to make the regime better, and warned those who wanted to return to absolute monarchy not to think about it, because other than a constitutional monarchy, there is also a third option, which is a republic. He said that there are people who want an absolute monarchy, and there are people who want a constitutional monarchy, but one should not forget that there are also people who want a system of government in which everyone is equal, or a republic, so the people should not be forced to make a choice because if they are pushed to the limit, there will be a referendum to determine which choice the people want.

“This is the last year to talk about monarchy reform. Whatever happens after this must happen. There is no way you can stop the sun from rising. You cannot stop people from thinking. No matter how much violence, how many weapons you use, you cannot kill all of us. The fight from now on is going to be very meaningful, because it is not an event, it is not an activity where you join a seminar and then go home. Our lives will be on the line, our pain will be on the line in every protest. We will be risking bullets, risking Covid. This is what we call fighting to the death,” Anon said.

Student activist Patsaravalee Tanakitvibulpon also spoke during the protest

He said that everyone who was part of the team behind last year’s Harry Potter protest is facing legal prosecution. He said that he hopes that there won’t be another protest on this day next year, and that instead there will be a big celebration. He hopes that they will place a new People’s Party plaque by King Chulalongkorn’s Equestrian Statue and return all state assets to the people.

“Whatever happens, we’ll fight together,” Anon said. “Remove your yokes and throw them away. Remove your yokes, pile them up next to the palace wall and burn them. On the 7th, we will be removing our yokes and burning them next to the palace wall.” 

Speaker truck drivers arrested after protest

A banner was hung in front of the speaker truck during the protest saying "Cruel state"

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported on 3 August that police officers arrested 5 people involved in running the speaker truck during the protest and took them to Pathumwan Police Station. 

iLaw also reported that the group was arrested, even though they had received their ticket and were on their way to pay the fines. However, the officers did not listen to them and confiscated the driver’s mobile phone.

Police officers were seen placing tickets on the windshields of vehicles parked on Rama 1 Road in front of BACC. One of the vehicles that received a ticket belonged to a group who was handing out free food to protesters.

When activists went to Pathumwan Police Station to ask for clarification about the truck, they were blocked from entering the police station by a unit of crowd control police. Officers also threatened to press charges against them if they did not leave within 30 minutes.

According to TLHR, they were charged with violating the Emergency Decree, using a sound amplifier without permission, and parking vehicles on a footpath. The police also confiscated the truck and their mobile phones.

The group was taken to the Pathumwan District Court on the morning of 4 August for a temporary detention request. TLHR reported that the court approved the police’s request, but granted them bail without security. They must also report to the court on 3 September 2021.

iLaw observed that in August 2021 protests, the police have been targeting speaker trucks more often. Within three days, there have been at least 6 incidents in which owners of protest speaker trucks have been harassed or arrested.

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