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Gov’t Steps Up Intimidation Campaign Against Pro-Democracy Activists

Thailand Student Pro-Democracy Protests August 16 Bangkok 2
Photo: Will Langston for the Bangkok Herald.

The government on Wednesday night launched a fresh campaign of intimidation against young, pro-democracy activists with the arrests of four student leaders and warrants out for two others on charges relating to an anti-government rally last week at Thammasat University.

The activists stand accused of sedition and other serious offenses, in addition to violating an emergency decree that prohibits large gatherings during the pandemic.

Pro-democracy activists have accused the authorities of abusing repressive laws to try and intimidate prominent student protesters into silence, including a draconian statute that prohibits any criticism of the royal family.

However, Pol. Maj. Gen. Chayut Maraya, a provincial police chief handling the cases, denied authorities were trying to intimidate anyone. “Everything we’ve done is fair and transparent,” he said. “There’s been no harassment.”

If convicted, the six activists years in prison for calling for a reform of the monarchy of Aug. 10, implying that it has been meddling in anti-democratic politics. Any criticism of the royal family is punishable by 15 years in prison per offense.

“I’m not surprised to see this in a country where there’s no freedom of speech,” said Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, a prominent and outspoken leader of the student-led movement, said in a tweet on Aug. 19.

“Our speeches must have pushed someone’s button. Do you think that we will retreat? We will fight more because our enemy is only one person,” she added.

In recent weeks, student-led pro-democracy protests, rallies and flash mobs have been taking place almost daily at high schools, colleges and universities around Thailand. In fiery speeches, student leaders have called for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to resign, casting his government illegitimate.

Several prominent protest leaders were detained last week and charged with various crimes, including sedition, before being released on bail.

Politically active students at various schools have also reported instances in which their teachers photographed them during pro-democracy rallies on campus, likely with the aim of reporting the students to authorities.

Student activists calling themselves the Bad Student group marched to the Ministry of Education in Bangkok on Aug. 19, demanding that their freedom of assembly be respected.

They also condemned Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan for refusing to condemn acts of harassment and intimidation against student protesters.      

The full version of this story was published by UCA News, a Bangkok Herald partner.