In Thailand, a student-let movement calling for political reform of the monarchy has sparked protests across the country, reports say. The protests have been gaining momentum since July, with the most recent one occurring on 26th October. Tens of thousands of young people assembled to protest the monarchy, the constitution and resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. Dozens of demonstrators have been arrested and the fear of persecution has heightened the pro-democratic sentiment. The government recently enforced stringent rules regarding public gatherings under the guise of the COVID- 19 state of emergency. Specifically, the government implemented a ban on public assembly of more than five people and prohibited the dissemination of information that may threaten national security.
Protesters assembled peacefully and many were seen making the three fingered salute, which has become a symbol of the protest movement. However, the demonstrations were met with violence by government authorities. On the second day, riot police were called, armed with water cannons. The demonstration and pro-democratic political ideology has been largely headed by the young people, mainly students. According to reports, more than 40 people have been arrested.
According to Amnesty International, the arrests were “clearly designed to stamp out dissent, and sow fear in anyone who sympathizes with the protesters’ views.” Similarly, Clément Voule, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of association and peaceful assembly, criticized the Thai authorities, stating that “the government needs to allow protesters to exercise their rights and seek dialogue, not suppress them.”
The current legal and political framework in Thailand imbues the government with the discretion to undermine civil liberties. Thereby, allowing the government to declare a state of emergency, detain individuals without due process and punish political dissent. International authorities have criticized the national state of emergency imposed in Thailand as a way of stifling political dissent. Under the current emergency measures, the police can detain demonstrators without charge, without access to lawyers or family for up to 30 days.
The demonstrations have been instrumental in exposing the structural and political weaknesses in Thailand. The most prominent issue is the criticism of the Thailand monarchy; which includes the budget of the monarchy, the separation of state and king’s funds and removal of laws that punish dissent against the Crown. In the current system, acts of violence against the monarchy are punishable by life prison sentences under section 110 of the criminal code. Moreover, in Thailand the constitution dictates that the King is to “be held in a position of revered worship.” Currently, the historical institution of monarchy, in which the power of the royal family is enshrined into the constitution, is being highly criticized by the Thai population and the international community.
In Thailand, the government authorities are impinging on political freedoms of protesters, and disguising state control by declaring national health concerns of COVID-19. Obvious points of tension exist between institutional action and the views of the population regarding the political and legal system. However, the momentum garnered by this student-led movement has the power to incite tangible change. Whilst there is fierce opposition by conservatives, it is evident that there is a strong public shift towards democracy and political restructuring in Thailand.