Student activists arrested during graduation boycott campaign

Two student activists were arrested this morning (14 January) while holding banners near the Chiang Mai University (CMU) auditorium calling for graduates to boycott the graduation ceremony, presided over by Princess Sirindhorn, and for the repeal of Section 112.

Phimchanok and Yotsunthon being taken to San Kamphaeng Police Station in a detention truck, accompanied by their lawyers

CMU student activist Yotsunthon Ruttapradid and Phimchanok Jaihong, member of the activist group Thalufah, were arrested this morning (14 January) by plainclothes and uniformed police officers while standing on the foothpath opposite the university auditoriam, where a graduation ceremony was being held. They were reported to be holding banners saying “Repeal Section 112” and “Feudal degrees” in a campaign for the repeal of the royal defamation law and to call on graduates to boycott the ceremony, presided over by Princess Sirindhorn, the King’s younger sister.

Yotsunthon and Phimchanok explained to the officers who came to tell them to stop their activity that they are calling for graduates to boycott the graduation ceremony, as they see it as a ritual which reinforces inequality.  

They were initially taken to Phuping Rajanivej Police Station, but later to San Kamphaeng Police Station. Activists from the student activist group Community of MorChor followed them and were told by officers that they were ordered to move the activists since officers from Phuping Rajanivej Police Station had to return to the campus to prepare for Princess Sirindhorn’s royal motorcade. 

The activists were charged with creating a noise without a reasonable cause and refusing to comply with an official’s order. They received a 1500 baht fine and were released. Officers reportedly said that they were able to charge the activists with causing noise while on campus because the campus was considered royal space during the ceremony.

Scratches on Phimchanok's arm

iLaw reported that, during the arrest, police officers searched Phimchanok’s bags. She was heard telling officers not to touch her, while Yotsunthon was put in handcuffs. Phimchanok said that she was dragged into a vehicle by a woman officer, who also tried to snatch her mobile phone out her hand, scratching her arm in the process. They were also not told what charges they faced.

While the activists are being held at San Kamphaeng Police Station, the CMU Student Union posted a statement on their Facebook page condemning the police action as a violation of the people’s freedom and an abuse of power. It also called on the University’s President to assist the detained students.

The banners saying "Feudal degrees" and "Repeal Section 112" the activists were holding when they were arrested

Thai graduation ceremonies are often long, complicated, and strictly regulated as they are presided over by a member of the royal family, and following the start of the 2020 – 2021 pro-democracy protests, graduation ceremonies have become a platform for young people to express their discontent at the status quo. Many graduates see boycotting the ceremonies as an act of civil disobedience, while activists are reported to have staged small activities at their universities’ graduation events.

On Tuesday (11 January), the CMU Student Union announced that its representatives would not receive Princess Sirindhorn when she arrived for the ceremony and that it will not receive any member of the royal family at any graduation ceremony which takes place during the current committee’s term in order to uphold equality. It also called on graduates to boycott the ceremony and to instead receive their degree certificate from people who support them during the university years, saying that the focus of the ceremony is often not congratulating the graduates but about being able to take photos with a member of the royal family, while those who supported the graduates, such as their parents, partners, and lecturers, are excluded.

The CMU Student Union also conducted a poll yesterday (13 January) on who graduates want to receive their degree certificate from. Union members walked around campus carrying a large piece of cardboard divided into five columns labelled “parents,” “friends,” “partners,” “lecturers,” and “royal family.” Graduates were invited to place stickers in the column corresponding to the people they would prefer to receive their certificate from. According iLaw, only 2 people voted for the royal family, while 21 people voted to receive their degree from their lecturers. 19 people said they want to receive their degree from their parents, 16 people said their friends, and 13 people said their partners.

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