Thailand’s Interior Ministry has summoned university administrators from across the nation to discuss concerns about student protesters seeking to reduce the power of the monarchy, according to a letter seen by BenarNews.
The meeting comes ahead of a planned rally that organizers say will draw up to 100,000 participants to Thammasat University in Bangkok this coming weekend. Students say they will go ahead with the event even after the university banned it.
“There are concerns on behavior of individual protesters who harbor an inappropriate attitude such as a call to overthrow the monarchy and to abolish the royal defamation law within the penal code,” said the leaked letter. Its authenticity was confirmed by an interior ministry official who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The letter called for a meeting on Tuesday to “discuss how to handle the students’ protests.”
Since mid-July, thousands of high school and university students nationwide have participated in rallies calling on Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha to dissolve parliament to make way for a new election, stop harassing activists and opposition figures, and rewrite the constitution.
At an Aug. 10 rally, protest leaders announced a set of 10 demands that would diminish the power of Thailand’s monarchy and require changes to the constitution. The demands were seen as daring since language deemed insulting to the Thai monarchy is punishable by prison terms of up to 15 years. But the law has not been applied in months.
Since the rallies began, police have arrested 14 people on a series of charges including sedition, organizing gatherings of 10 or more people, and leading mass gatherings that could spread COVID-19. In addition, 15 others have turned themselves in to law enforcement officials.
A Thai senator said he had urged the government to get university administrators involved in curbing student demands to reform the monarchy.
“I suggested through the prime minister that the interior minister advise provincial governors to come to an understanding with university executives that the 10-count demand is not possible,” Sen. Somchai Sawangkarn told BenarNews by phone Monday.
Somchai said he wanted university executives to be aware that the protests could become violent or pose a public health risk.
“While I agree that peaceful demonstrations can be done within the framework of the Constitution and Public Assembly Act, I would ask that educational institution administrators be aware of and ready to take legal responsibility for potential harm from instigators who may use weapons, and COVID-19 infections,” he said. “I don’t want to see people get injured or killed.”
The date of the planned rally at Thammasat University, 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 Prayuth, who was chief of the Royal Thai Army at the time. He has served as prime minister since then.
The university was the scene of a massacre in 1976 when students gathered to protest the return to Thailand of Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn, who ruled Thailand with an iron fist for ten years before fleeing to the United States in 1973 following protests that turned violent.
Official reports stated that 46 were killed on Oct. 6, 1976, while unofficial reports said more than 100 died.