They lurk in the back at student rallies. They secretly film their own pupils. They report “troublemakers” to the government. They are Thailand’s “thought police”, better known as the country’s public-school teachers.
As the country’s student-propelled pro-democracy movement ratchets up pressure on the military-backed government to resign, instructors at high schools and universities are being ordered to monitor their pupils for political activities, activists allege.
At one high school in Nakhon Phanom Province, the school’s director instructed staff to spy on students, according to an internal memo dated Aug. 7 that was leaked to Thai-language media.
Teachers were told to report any sign that the school’s students might plan to stage an anti-government rally. The memo was issued a day after scores of students at the high school had staged just such a rally as part of countrywide student-led protests.
The school’s administrators refused to comment on the leaked memo, but Thai activists have condemned them for violating the rights of students to have their own political views.
Meanwhile, at another high school in Songkhla Province, a female teacher was filmed as she was using her mobile phone to record the faces of students who were participating in a pro-democracy rally on campus.
The teacher recorded the students with the intention of either shaming them or reporting them to the authorities, activists claimed. The protesting students tried to protect their indenties by covering their faces with pieces of paper on which they had written slogans and demands.
Later the teacher was identified by young pro-democracy activists who decried her action as a form of intimidation aimed at silencing students with dissenting views.
In yet another instance of official harassment of protesting students, plainclothes officers reportedly detained six students, including young women, at a rally in Phitsanulok and took them to an “attitude adjustment” session in the jungle.
The students involved wrote about their experiences in a Facebook post on Aug. 10, explaining that the officials had warned them against speaking out against the monarchy for fear that the province’s guardian spirit might get upset at locals. A local police chief, however, denied that the incident had taken place.
“You often see these young soldiers who pretend to be students come and sit in classes,” said one student who majors in political science and studies at a prestigious university in Bangkok.
“We instantly recognize them from their crew cuts. They don’t speak to anyone and just sit at the back. Everyone knows who they are, but we just ignore them,” the student added.
Yet if the authorities have been trying to intimidate politically active students into silence, it clearly has not been working. In recent weeks thousands of high school and university students have been staging flash mobs and protest rallies almost daily with calls for the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to step down.
Continue reading on UCA News, a Bangkok Herald partner.