Written by: Jaeho
Edited by: Keitaro
Visual by: Zoe
Recently in Thailand, youth activists have gathered to protest against the current Thai government. These anti-government protests call for the impeachment of the military-backed prime minister, Prayuth Chan-Ocha, to step down while also calling for a more democratic model of governing.
For context, the citizens of Thailand have been living under a “Junta Government” (military dictatorship) where the king, Maha Vajiralongkorn, has been exercising extreme and incontestable power. All criticism against the king is silenced by “the kingdom’s draconian royal defamation law” or otherwise known as, the “Lèse-Majesté.” The “Lèse-Majesté”, which translates from French into “to do wrong to majesty”, is an offense against the dignity of the reigning leader of the state. This law can be seen in Thailand within Article 112 of the country’s criminal code, which states that defaming, insulting, or threatening the king, queen, heir, or regent could result in imprisonment for up to 15 years. Although it has been abated over the years, this law has been in act since 1908 and will continue to exist without intervention. The protests call for the complete abolishment of this military dictatorship.
Throughout all the protests, a constant trend for protesters has been to hold up three fingers in unison, mirroring the iconic symbol in the popular film series “The Hunger Games.” Originating from a previous May 2014 coup, this symbol is nothing new to Thai protests. The three fingers represent freedom, liberty, and fraternity of the country. This illustrates the will to resist against the military-backed government of Thailand.
Wanting to hold onto power, the Thai government has shown a willingness to undermine the protests by arresting some key members of the reformation movement. A prominent rights lawyer, Arnon Nampha, was arrested by the police with sedition charges tied to his speech in a pro-democracy rally. His arrest could result in up to 7 years in prison. The government has effectively ended the protests by declaring a state of emergency in the capital city of Bangkok, making all public demonstrations illegal. Additionally, the police have started introducing tear gas and riot police as well as closing mass transit stations to suppress the growing number of protests.
To counteract the government’s response, Thai protestors have adopted similar protest tactics that were used in Hong Kong. They use umbrellas, helmets, and gas masks to protect themselves from tear gas. Flash mobs and human barricades are formed to shield themselves from the police. Protest scenes in Thailand are starkly reminiscent of last summer’s street scenes in Hong Kong.
However, it seems that efforts made by the Thai government to deter protest movements have not demoralized the will of the youth. Protesters will continue to strive for a complete transformation of the Thai government through their sustained protest rallies.