As numerous protesters are taking to the streets of Bangkok demanding political reforms in recent months, the tensions between the protesters and police continue to escalate as the protests have been dealt with by the government heavy handedly. Peaceful demonstrations were suppressed and dispersed by the police, while many demonstrators were apprehended. For many Hongkongers, it is all too familiars when scenes of street demonstrations and excessive use of force by the police continue to unfold on the streets of Bangkok. The resistance tactics employed by Thai activists have a lot in common with the 2019 Anti-extradition Bill Movement in Hong Kong, . It is against this background that the Thailand and Hong Kong sections of Amnesty International jointly held a webinar on “Freedom of Expression” and invited two young Thai protesters to share their experiences in the Thai struggle with friends from Hong Kong and other Asian regions.
Both activists presented at the webinar are activists of the younger generation who form the backbone of this movement. Among them, Neo is a 17-year-old female student from a newly formed student group “Bad Students”. They intentionally named themselves as “Bad Students” in order to distinguish themselves from the conventional Thais’ image of “good students”, which is to be obedient, follow the rules, and behave well. In order to pursue their ideal social goals, they would rather let themselves become “bad students” in the eyes of traditional Thais. Neo revealed that there are now about 1,000 members of “Bad Students” and in addition those who come from the capital, students from other provinces are also participating in demonstrations in Bangkok, and they are even joined by elementary students. Although they name themselves “Bad Students,” they have always adhered to non-violent and peaceful tactics and principles, still, they are being strongly suppressed by the authorities.
Another protester who presented at the webinar was 24-year-old Ford. He took time off to participate in the webinar from the hectic protest. Ford stressed that the protest started with three key demands raised by the Thai public, namely, dissolution of the parliament and the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut, stop threatening the citizens, and new constitution, and later with further demands of monarchy reform. However, Ford emphasized that the current Lèse Majesté Law has become a tool to suppress citizens’ right to freedom of expression due to its vague content and broad definition. In the name of protecting the monarchy, the authorities discredit the protesters as unpatriotic or even “enemies of the nation”. When up against unarmed peaceful protesters, the military and police would use tear gas and water cannon vehicles to suppress and disperse protesters. In addition to the Lèse Majesté Law, the authorities are also making use of other laws to arrest demonstrators. Amnesty International found that the Thai authorities are frequently using other repressive laws such as the Computer Crimes Act, sedition, or defamation to restrict freedom of expression.
Similar to the 2019 Hong Kong Protest, the protest in Thailand is also a leaderless and mobile movement. Thai protesters use various social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Telegram to disseminate information and messages. Meanwhile, they also make extensive use of Hashtag on public platforms for more effective propagation. At the scene of the protest, there are coordinators who would using loudhailer to notify members of different positions of relevant information. The identities of these coordinators are concealed for personal security reasons.
Ford also highlighted that there have been clashes between the protesters and supporters of the monarchy. Monarchy supporters would dress in “yellow shirts” and they often instigated clashes with the protesters. The physical appearances of the “yellow shirts” usually resembles that of the soldiers’, and when the military and police intervened into such clashes, they often favoured the “yellow shirts”, putting the protesters in extremely unfair situations.
Neo said that despite they take the social movement very seriously, they also try to energise the movement by instilling liveliness and fun into “Bad Students” activities, in order to attract more people to join. Ford admitted that although it is still unclear that whether their goals will be met, taking to the streets is the only way for them to pursue their goals. He believed that there is hope when more people are willing to take to the streets. He called on people from all around the world to continue to pay attention to the resistance in Thailand. He hoped that citizens of various democratic countries can uphold the spirit of democracy and the principles of human rights to support them, so that the Thai government will realize that other parts of the world are also demanding for political reform in Thailand and the demands of reforms should be responded appropriately.