ALYSSA MONTALVO WRITES — It’s scarcely big news that the political culture of Thailand is heavily influenced by the monarchy. And because of this – and the alliance between the extensive Thai military and Crown, one of the world’s longest running monarchies – issues of basic human rights and equity continually resurface.
The latest series of protests have been runnning on and off since last year, led by a pro-democracy movement that includes many high school and college students. But Thailand’s young people, in trying to find a voice and speak up against the monarchy, run into strict laws known as lèse-majesté (a French phrase approximating “do wrong to majesty”). In Thailand it’s potentially a very serious punishable offense. Speaking against the crown and causing violence or interrupting the peace account for the arrests of the protestors. They are crimes according to Section 112 and Section 215 of the Thai Criminal Code. These protestors have been denied bail and face up to 15 years in jail. According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, from July 2020 to 20 September 2021 alone, at least 1,341 individuals (182 of them children) have faced criminal charges – including sedition, royal defamation, computer-related crime, violation of the Public Assembly law.
“When the government is authoritarian, they think they can censor the media, they think they can stop the people from protesting,” said Rangsiman Rome, an opposition lawmaker. “But people are still coming out to protest every day, demanding change.”
Protests have sparked once again due to absurd government mishandlings of the new wave of COVID. A prominent mother of one of the student protestors put it this way: “Sometimes I think, one tear gas canister could buy six to eight doses of a good-quality vaccine. The state keeps saying that we are a democracy, but they only listen to their own voice.” The monarchy has supported Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha since he seized power in a 2014 coup that toppled elected Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, younger sister to Thaksin Shinawatra, himself pushed out as elected PM in 2006. Disillusioned by years of military rule, protesters are demanding amendments to the constitution, a new election and an end to the harassment of rights activists and state critics.
Until there is progress, the protest movement will surely not readily go away – especially those ‘annoying’ college and high school students.