Thai Pro-Democracy Protesters Mark 45th Anniversary of Student Massacre

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Bangkok
2021-10-06
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Thai Pro-Democracy Protesters Mark 45th Anniversary of Student Massacre An image on a screen shows a scene from an October 1976 massacre of student protesters by police at Thammasat University, as people at the Bangkok campus mark the 45th anniversary of the killings, Oct. 6, 2021.
Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews

More than 1,000 protesters gathered at a Bangkok campus Wednesday to mark the anniversary of a massacre of students by state forces, and said they were fighting for democracy as their “brothers” did 45 years ago.

Since July 2020, a new generation of young Thai activists has been staging pro-democracy protests in Bangkok to air grievances not unlike those articulated by 4,000 students who rallied at Thammasat University on Oct. 6, 1976 – a day of infamy in Thailand’s modern history.

A police force of 8,000 personnel used assault rifles and grenades to crush the anti-government protest. At least 46 protesters died. 

Wiroj, a resident of Khon Kaen province who joined Wednesday’s anniversary protest, said he wanted to help fight for democracy.

“I’d like to call for the prime minister to resign, appoint an acting prime minister, dissolve the parliament and draft a new constitution that belongs to the people,” Wiroj, who declined to give his last name because of fears for his safety, told BenarNews.

“The constitution and the prime minister should really come from Thai people. What Thammasat students have demanded from the past to the present is justified.”

Police said Wednesday’s protest was peaceful.

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Sandbags splashed with red dye to represent 1976 victims litter a stage at Thammasat University, where protesters marked the anniversary of a massacre that killed at least 46 people, Oct. 6, 2021. [Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews]

In 1976, thousands gathered at the campus in the heart of Bangkok to protest the return of Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn, the leader of the “Three Tyrants,” who had ruled Thailand for 10 years. In 1973, he fled to the United States amid violent protests as Thai students sought a full-fledged democracy.

This year’s protesters are seeking the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, who came to power in 2014 after leading a military coup that toppled an elected government. Members of parliament voted to keep him as prime minister after the 2019 general election. He is expected to seek reelection in 2023. 

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A Thai woman walks across the soccer field at Thammasat University littered with copies of pictures from the 1976 massacre, Oct. 6, 2021. [Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews]

While calling for fresh changes, a Thammasat University student noted that some wrongdoers from 1976 have not been brought to justice, adding that “some people involved enjoy impunity.” Kiatchai Tangpornphan also expressed concern over Lese-Majeste, the nation’s harsh royal defamation law.

“We cannot deny that the monarchy remains firmly attached to the military. In 1956, the Lese-Majeste law was amended – the latest is Section 112 – this amendment is not useful to the people at all,” Kiatchai told BenarNews.

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An image from the 1976 massacre appears on the soccer field at Thammasat University in Bangkok, Oct. 6, 2021. [Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews]

As he gave a speech outside the main auditorium of Thammasat University, political activist Thatchapong Kaedam said “as long as this country has 112, we will never be able to settle history. So we have to abolish 112.”

Since November 2020, at least 124 people – many of them pro-democracy activists – have been accused of violating the royal defamation law, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, a legal aid group.

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A protest leader addresses a rally at Thammasat University in Bangkok calling for the prime minister to resign and the constitution to be revised, Oct. 6, 2021. [Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews]

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, whose Future Forward Party challenged Prayuth’s party in the 2019 election but was later disbanded by a Thai court, attended Wednesday’s rally. He placed flowers at the site in memory of the victims of the 1976 massacre.

“First of all, those who give orders have never been politically responsible for incidents like those on Oct. 6, 1976, in May 1992 and in May 2010. This culture must end. There must be no more mass killings of people and justice must be restored for the victims,” Thanathorn said in a Facebook post.

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Thai protesters surround a bonfire at the university, Oct. 6, 2021. [Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews]

 

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