At the end of last month, one of the largest protests in Thailand’s four-year long military rule occurred. Nearly one thousand protesters gathered to petition the building of a government-funded luxury housing project on forested land.
Since the seizure of Thailand by the military in 2 014, there has been a no-tolerance policy towards protests. Current law in the country states that no more than five citizens are allowed to publicly gather, curbing freedom of expression and speech in Thailand.
Protestors at the rally shouted “te-kwang,” a northern dialect meaning “demolition,” towards the newly erected homes that invade one of the most popular mountains and forestry areas in the country. Citizens were adorned with green ribbons threatening to continue acts of protest if the construction isn’t ceased. According to public officials in Thailand, the construction projects do not invade protected lands. They argue that they are legally building on state-owned land, not intruding on the favored national park.
Despite this argument, protesters proceeded to demand a “return of the forest.” One of the rally’s organizers told Al Jazeera: “[w]e want the demolition of the houses and a return of the forest… bring back the forest to Doi Suthep. Bring back the forest to the people.” Thai citizens believe that the project will be detrimental to the environment and have a great impact on the forest’s health.
The rally was organized by a number of environmental groups present throughout the country who have been in opposition to the construction of the project since its 2015 announcement. The units are solely focused on bettering the environment of the country and hold no political agenda, according to the head of police.
Activists also took careful consideration to create peaceful protest by properly requesting the event which was later approved by government officials. Some participants, though, may face legal action if the housing is illegally demolished.
Thai officials addressed the rally by suggesting that environmental groups reassess the project after 10 years to see if there is any detrimental environmental impact on the surrounding area. But, for protestors and group members, the forest is sacred land and a “lung” for the surrounding city; building on such land is seen as disrespectful.
It should be noted that the housing project is intended for judges of the new military regime present in Thailand. Thailand’s new military government lately received a number of protest demonstrations surrounding pro-democracy and political changes. As such, the environmental groups were keen on separating themselves from that agenda, and even cleaned up the streets after the rally subsided as an act of respect.
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