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Thailand: Activists Undeterred by University’s Plan to Ban Major Protest

Kunnawut Boonreak
Bangkok
2020-09-10
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Student protest leaders (left to right) Panupong Jadnok, Panusaya Sithijirawattankul and Parit Chiwarak speak to reporters about their planned Sept. 19 rally at Thammasat University in Bangkok, Sept. 9, 2020.
Student protest leaders (left to right) Panupong Jadnok, Panusaya Sithijirawattankul and Parit Chiwarak speak to reporters about their planned Sept. 19 rally at Thammasat University in Bangkok, Sept. 9, 2020.
Reuters

A Bangkok university has banned students from holding an anti-government rally on its campus on Sept. 19 and 20, while activists have vowed to go ahead with the event, which they say could draw up to 100,000 people.

In a statement seen by BenarNews, Thammasat University said it would not allow students to use its campus for the event because it was contrary to university guidelines on political gatherings.

But a group calling itself the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration still plans to host the protest, dubbed “Sept. 19, Returning Power to the People,” followed by a 3-km (1.9-mile) march to Government House on Sunday. Organizers said they expect crowds of 70,000 to 100,000 to participate.

Despite the university’s announcement, “we will still hold the gathering at Thammasat,” activist Parit “The Penguin” Chiwarak said in a statement on Facebook.

The date of the rally, Sept. 19, is the anniversary of the 2006 military coup that toppled the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. His sister Yingluck Shinawatra, elected in 2011, lost power three years later in a similar coup led by then-Army Chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha, who has served as prime minister since then.

Parit, a Thammasat student, was arrested on Aug. 14, making him the third activist to be arrested over a series of rallies that began on July 18 with a gathering at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok.

Parit joined student activist Panupong Jadnok, 23, and human rights lawyer Anon Numpa, 35, in being charged with sedition. All three were also charged with organizing gatherings of 10 or more people, leading mass gatherings that could spread the coronavirus, and five other charges, police said at the time.

Since then, another 11 activists have been arrested and 15 others turned themselves in to police.

Panupong and Anon spent four nights in jail last weekend after police revoked their bail because they had not complied with its condition of refraining from participating in other protests.

The rallies, which have spread to college and high school campuses and other locations across the nation, have featured calls for getting rid of the current government, junking a military-backed constitution and reforming the monarchy.

Early on, Prayuth said he was listening to the demands, and that people had the right to protest. Last month, as the number of arrests increased, the prime minister made a request to the protesters.

“I know all of their demands. Only one thing I beg of them: don’t touch the monarchy issue, as it’s respected by all Thai people,” he told a British journalist.

U.S. Embassy issues statement

On Thursday, the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok released a statement challenging a widely circulated online post “dedicated to purveying disinformation” that Washington was supporting the protesters.

“The United States government is not funding or otherwise providing support to any of the protests in Thailand,” the statement said. “The United States does not support any individual or political party; we support the democratic process and the rule of law.”

It noted that photographs of Parit at the U.S. Embassy were taken during the tenure of a previous ambassador.

Suchada Chakpisuth, director of Thai Civil Rights and Investigative Journalism, an independent online news provider, said this type of information had circulated before.

“Every time that the political movement is heated, this type of information will be disseminated. The publishers do not care about inaccuracy,” she said.

“They want to discredit the protesters and produce another set of truths for their followers.”

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