The Student Government of Chulalongkorn University (SGCU) has proposed that 6 October of every year be designated the International Day for the Protection of Students’ Freedom of Expression.
Flowers brought by various student groups and CSOs at the 45th anniversary of the Thammasat University Massacre event on 6 October 2021
The SGCU has started a petition on change.org, proposing that the UN designate 6 October, the anniversary of the 1976 Thammasat University Massacre, as the International Day for the Protection of Students’ Freedom of Expression.
The petition is backed by several student activist groups from Chulalongkorn University and Thammasat University, including the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration and the Spring Movement, and 29 international activists and academics, including those from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Myanmar, and the Philippines.
The petition proposes that the International Day for the Protection of Students’ Freedom of Expression be observed on 6 October to remember “those who lost their lives and the various cases of brutality that have taken place in various academic institutions around the world” and to call on university administrations to protect students’ freedom of expression, academic freedom, and create “a safe space for dialogue and inquiry.”
The petition also says that the situation has not improved since the 1976 Thammasat University Massacre. Student movements around the world continue to face repression, at times by the state, and the 2020 - 2021 student-led protests in Thailand have faced violence from the authorities while activists, many of whom are under 18 years old, are facing prosecution.
Student activist and SGCU president Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal said that what they are doing right now is to make people aware of how important freedom is. He said that while they do plan to submit the petition, there is no need to wait for the UN, but Thai students in every university should come together to create a day that is meaningful to them and to raise awareness among students about the protection of rights and freedoms and to call on university administrations to protect students’ rights and freedoms. He said that once this day is recognized in Thailand, they can move on to the international level.
“It needs time, but we will definitely propose it,” Netiwit said, “but mainly, we have to do it well at home. If we don’t, then if the world accepts it, but we ourselves don’t care about it, what good would it do?”
Netiwit said that student movements in other countries still face state violence, such as in Hong Hong, where young people are facing charges with penalties as severe as life imprisonment, or in Myanmar, where students have long been at the forefront of pro-democracy movements and have been severely repressed, with many of them killed. He sees 6 October as a symbolically meaningful day at an international level, not just in Thailand.
“Students are starting to see the 6 October incident as closer to their lives every year, because they started to see it, right? Once they start asking questions, they are put down, so they start to understand the generations before them, who lived through the incident, so they see that this is injustice, that this is brutality that they must not forget," Netiwit said.
"And the state doesn’t care to remember it, so people have to remember. If, one day, the state starts remembering it, this day might become a more ordinary day, but it would still be a day that inspires people to fight back against the state, as long as it is still remembered by ordinary people."
Netiwit believes that, despite repression and legal prosecution, people are still determined to fight. He said that in the past, if an activist was arrested, they didn’t know how much support they had, but right now, more people sympathize with them and are ready to support them, so he believes that the situation is getting more hopeful.