Thai Peaceful Activists Arrested In Pro-Democracy Protests

In Thailand, democracy protests have been growing in reaction to the dissolving of the Future Forward Party in February. With appeals to young voters, the fledgling pro-democracy party had a surprising performance in the last election, garnering the third largest share of seats within the national parliament. However, according to the BBC in February, a Thai constitutional court ruled the party be disbanded, citing a $6 million loan from the founder of the party as a donation, making it illegal under Thai law. Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, former leader of the party, has argued that under strict Thai law, the fledgling party had no other opportunity to fund-raise for the election.

This ending of the Future Forward Party is in benefit to Prime Minsiter Prayut Chan-o-cha who came to power in 2014 after a military coup d’état and currently holds power within a coalition government. Prayut is a former general and leader of the military junta (known as the National Council of Peace and Order) that governed Thailand after the previous government was dissolved.

Early in the protests Prayuth pledged to listen to protesters, however, Prayuth has begun to utilize more aggressive language with regard to the protesters, stating: “The core of Thailand is comprised of nation, religion, and monarchy. This will never change. I will never allow that to happen. Every Thai must defend Thailand from those who want to destroy our country…The law will never forgive them.”

While disappointing, Prayut’s position is by no means surprising considering his implementation of Article 44 in the Thai constitution. The article, which was created in 2014, has been used as a alternative to the martial law that was in place after Prayuth took power. Article 44 enabled Prayuth to override laws and regulations and has the ability to be used to impede civil liberties.

Beginning in earnest in July of this year by the Free People group, the protests have amassed thousands of protesters in Bangkok. The Free People group, which was previously known as the Free Youth movement, was started by student activists has since changed their name to maintain a more inclusive message. Protesters are calling for constitutional reform, follow through on freedom of expression, and dismissal of the Parliament.

In addition, the protest have grown to include a demand for institutional reform of the monarchy. A largely unprecedented demand due to Thailand’s stringent lèse majesté laws that classify defamation of the monarch as a criminal act that can result in up to 15 years in prison. While the newly crowned King Vajiralongkorn has asked that the law not be used on protesters, Prime Minister Prayuth threatened protesters who continue to defame the monarchy, stating, “Those who have this kind of behavior may find it hard to find work, businesses do not want this sort of people to work for them, so how can they make a living? I am worried for them.”

Multiple people have been arrested in response to these protests, including student leaders, activists, and members of the Rap Against Dictatorship music group, most under the charge of sedition. While Thailand has not charged any one for defamation since 2018, authorities have utilized proxy laws such as the Computer Crimes Act and other sedition laws as a way to punish activists in recent protests. According to the Human Rights Watch, protesters have so far been charged with sedition, assembly with intent to cause violence, violating the ban on public gathering, which holds a maximum of a 7 year prison sentence.

The OWP condemns the actions of Prime Minister Prayut and the Thai government. As of 1996, Thailand has been a ratified member of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is an appendage of the International Bill of Human Rights. This multilateral treaty mandates that ratified parties respect the political and civil rights of all persons. This includes freedom of speech and assembly as well as the rights to due process and a fair trial, all of which have largely been ignored within the context of these protests.

In order to rectify these infringements on civil rights and liberties, a number of actions must take place. First and foremost, Article 44 must be immediately dissolved as it essentially creates a martial law on the land and is the primary factor that legitimizes the government’s harsh response to the protests. The over-turning of Article 44 would allow activists to safely protest without fear of unwarranted arrest and would bring Thailand further in accordance to the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.

Secondly, the Thai government needs to allow for the reforming of the Future Forward Party. While issues of legality regarding the party’s fundraising are still up in the air, the 80 members of parliament elected under this party platform should be allowed remain membership under the Future Forward Party rather than be sent to exist under another party. This would help protesters to feel as though they have a voice within the government and would aide in providing stability the ensure the success of any future transition of power.

Lastly, and perhaps most significant in terms of long-term benefits to the people of Thailand, Prayut needs to step down as prime minister and allow for the creation of free and fair elections in Thailand. While these may seem like some fairly drastic changes, the reality is that by in large, these changes would simply be a return of Thai governmental standards prior to the 2014 coup d’état. This return to normalcy is critical for the Thai government if they wish to simultaneously  assuage their disgruntled citizens and properly adhere to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. A step that would further legitimize their government in the eyes of the international community and more importantly, elevate the lives of every Thai citizen.

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