The youth-led protest movement in Thailand calling for government reform and democratic change has slowed in recent months due to a fresh wave of coronavirus infections.
But protesters are back on Saturday as they scaled a massive Bangkok monument and draping it with crimson cloth which they said represented the blood of fighters for democracy.
The pro-democracy protesters have been calling for an overhaul to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government and for the abolition of the kingdom’s draconian royal defamation laws.
The recent detention of four prominent protest leaders charged with insulting the monarchy has spurred protesters back into action, bringing hundreds to the Democracy Monument intersection in Bangkok’s historic quarter under the close watch of riot police.
The lese majeste law, contained in article 112 of Thailand’s criminal code, carries penalties of up to 15 years in prison. Student activists say the law has been abused for decades to crush political opposition to a military-royalist establishment.
“I want to stress the purpose of today’s rally is to call for 112 to be abolished,” said Panupong “Mike” Jadnok, referring to the law by its penal code section.
After rearranging flower pots around the monument to say “112”, activists draped a massive red cloth over Democracy Monument in an act of defiance.
“If the police don’t release our friends within seven days, we will stage a big protest here at the monument,” shouted rally leader Attapon Buapat.
As night fell, they marched to the Royal Palace, but were stopped by barricades and barbed wire surrounding the area as scores of police in full riot gear faced off with the protesters, some of whom were wielding white shields, gas masks and helmets.
The pro-democracy movement, which kicked off last July, is calling for reforms to the unassailable monarchy, and the abolition of the royal defamation law is one of its key demands.
The call for reform and the grievances of the student led protesters against the monarchy has electrified Thai society, where frank discussion about the royals is taboo.
The Royal Palace has declined to directly comment on the protests, but Prayuth and government officials have said that criticism of the king is unlawful and inappropriate.
At its peak, the rallies drew tens of thousands, with demonstrators drawing inspiration from Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.
In November, police deployed tear-gas and water cannons against protesters, using liquid laced with an irritant and the clashes left more than 40 people injured. (Source: The Straits Times)