Thai Activists Vow To Continue Protests Following Release From Prison

Four Thai activists, including human rights lawyer and protest leader Arnon Nampa, were freed from a Bangkok prison early on November 3. Upon their freeing, the activists vowed to continue their fight to oust Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and reform the monarchy. The four were arrested with dozens of others during the imposition of emergency measures last months in an attempt to end months of protests. However, these efforts backfired when tens of thousands of people flooded the streets of Bangkok. According to U.S. News & World Report, these four activists “were freed after a court ruled that police had reached the limit for detaining them. They still face public order and other charges relating to the protests.”

“We are out and ready to fight again,” Arnon Nampa said upon his release from Bangkok Remand Prison, addressing hundreds of supporters. Thailand’s Palace has yet to comment since the beginning of the protests. However, the Sunday before the release, Thailand’s king told a British news channel that “we love them all the same” of the protestors and that “Thailand is a land of compromise.”

The situation in Thailand is not a promising one. By all accounts, the protestors, led by Arnon Nampa, were peaceful. They are demanding government reform and transparency. However, they are being silenced and imprisoned by their leadership. No society can throw dissenters in prison and claim to be free. The statements from Thailand’s king are particularly disturbing as he claims love for the protestors and touts Thailand as a “land of compromise,” yet silences and imprisons peaceful protestors. Two of the released protestors face potential death sentences or life in prison on embellished charges of violence against the queen, which is incredibly troubling. The actions of Thailand’s monarchy are proving the necessity of reform to the institution, making the work of Arnon Nampa and his followers all the more crucial.

According to U.S. News & World Report, Arnon faced imprisonment after he “broke a longstanding taboo on criticizing the monarchy in August when he was the first to openly call for reforms to curb the powers of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.” Other released activists included Ekachai Hongkangwan and Suranat Paenprasert, charged with rarely used claims of violence against the queen following an incident where the queen’s motorcade was jeered after unexpectedly arriving in an area with a large gathering of protestors. Such charges can be punished under the death penalty if the court determines the queen’s life was threatened in any way, while lesser sentences can include between sixteen years and life in prison. All pleaded not guilty to the charges brought against them. The protestors seek reforms to the monarchy, changes to the constitution, and the removal of Prime Minister Prayuth. The issue with Prime Minister Prayuth specifically is that he is a former junta leader accused of tampering with last year’s election to retain the power he seized in a coup in 2014. Prayuth, however, attests that the vote was fair and that he will not resign.

Thailand cannot be a truly free society until they stop imprisoning and silencing dissenters. Peaceful protest is a part of any functioning, opening society, so the attempts to quell it are particularly disturbing. The role of the courts and police in perpetuating these arbitrary charges and the silencing of dissent cannot be ignored. All of these institutions working to preserve power in the hands of leadership and not the people require reform. While the work of protesting Thailand’s monarchy and government is clearly perilous, it is all the more crucial for leaders like Arnon Nampa to continue their work. Their courage in doing so is commendable, and it is promising that their movement is gaining traction with Thailand’s citizenry.

Breanna McCann