A pair of pro-democracy rappers and a lawyer were among the nine activists recently arrested in Thailand for their participation in the spate of anti-government protests.
A sweep of dissenters:
On Thursday, Thai authorities apprehended human rights lawyer Anon Nampa; Rap for Democracy member Dechatorn Bamroongmuang; rapper Thanayut Na Ayutthaya, popularly known as Elevenfinger; activists Baramee Chairat, Suwanna Tarnlek and Korakot Saengyenpanm; and several others, reported BBC News
- Anon Nampa, who was arrested weeks before in July for joining anti-government rallies, participated in a massive Harry Potter-themed rally last week.
- Meanwhile, Bamroongmuang and Ayutthaya have been performing at anti-government protests in recent weeks, one being in the July protest at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument.
- “What My Country’s Got,” a song by Bamroongmuang’s Rap Against Dictatorship, captured the attention of former military officials after it became a viral hit. On YouTube, the track has attracted over 88 million views as of this writing.
- Charged with sedition, the activists could face prison sentences of up to seven years. They have since been released on bail, reports Khaosod.
About the protests: Over the past few weeks, thousands of Thais have been actively demanding the dissolution of the current administration led by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha as well as reform to the monarchy led by Thailand’s current sovereign, King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
- Chan-ocha is a former army chief who came to power following a military coup in 2014 and “returned as the country’s civilian premier after a controversial election last year.”
- Meanwhile, King Vajiralongkorn consolidated financial and military control of the country shortly after inheriting the throne in 2016.
- Changes to the constitution allowed him to rule from overseas, where he would reportedly spend most of the time, and also brought important army regiments under his command, including the Crown Property Bureau (estimated to be worth over $33 billion), giving him direct oversight over royal assets, according to TIME.
Thailand’s biggest political rally: The weeks of nearly daily demonstrations across the country culminated with the massive turnout on August 16, drawing more than 10,000 people along the intersection around Bangkok’s Democracy Monument, reported Agence France-Presse. The peaceful march was the largest seen at the Democracy Monument since the 2014 putsch staged by Chan-ocha.
Protesters carried placards and shouted chants that demanded a democratic reform of its government.
- During the demonstration, one of the organizers, Tattep Ruangprapaikitseree, can be heard urging the government to “stop threatening the people.”
- Students activists were joined by protesters from various groups including LGBTQ activists, environmentalists and Malay Muslim separatists, according to TIME.
- “If there’s no positive response from the government by September, we will step up,” Ruangprapaikitseree said to the crowd of listeners.
- Student leader Parit Chiwarak and Anon Numpa, who were both arrested and charged with sedition a few weeks prior, joined the crowd despite being told by authorities not to.
- The group was not only calling for an overhaul of the current form of government but also a new constitution to replace the military-scripted constitution created just in 2017.
- Another point of contention for the protesters are the lèse majesté laws which essentially protect the royal family from defamatory slurs, but have allegedly been abused by those in power against political opponents, threatening to jail those who speak out of up to 15 years.
- According to the protesters, they don’t have a leader and have mostly depended on social media campaigns to generate public support among Thais.
- Among the top Twitter hashtags in Thailand that Sunday was “Give a deadline to dictatorship.”
In an earlier protest at Thammasat University (Aug. 10) student activist Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul read out a 10-point manifesto that calls for multiple reforms and changes in the government, the Nation Thailand
- “I asked for it. I want to be the one to read that manifesto,” Sithijirawattanakul told NPR. “Because I want to be the one to change things in this country. And I think this is the chance to do that.”
- “In the past, there have been statements fooling us by saying that people born into the royal family are incarnations of gods and angels,” she allegedly said according to the New York Times. “With all due respect, please ask yourselves, are you sure that angels or gods have this kind of personality?”
- She urged the royal institution to revoke the “draconian lèse majesté law,” reduce the monarchy’s budget and ban the palace from politics.
- In a statement, a student group emphasized that they are not trying to dismantle the monarchy and would still allow the king “to continue to be esteemed by the people within a democracy.”
- Parit chastised the authorities on Twitter last Monday, three days after his arrest saying, “To threaten students is to declare war on the future. Stop harassing students now if you don’t want things to escalate.”
Unacceptable demands: In response to the protests, Chan-ocha has already deemed the demands as “unacceptable” for Thailand’s majority.
- During the Sunday rally, there were dozens of royalists who showed up in support of the King, shouting, “Long live the king.”
- Observers attribute the citizens’ growing discontent as Thailand continues to experience one of its worst economic periods since 1997 due to the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.
- The pandemic highlighted the growing margin between Thailand’s rich and poor, with the elite, pro-military establishment thriving while millions lost their jobs.
- Political analyst Titipol Phakdeewanich of Ubon Ratchathani University noted that the growing pro-democracy movement is sending a clear message that the Thai government “cannot forever use legal mechanisms against the people.”
- “They can see that it’s only used to serve the interests of the military and the establishment parties,” he said.
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