At least 10,000 Thai demonstrators have taken to the streets of the capital Bangkok demanding political change, in one of the biggest protests against the country’s military rulers since the 2014 coup.
Made up mostly of students, the demonstrators gathered at the city’s famous democracy monument on Sunday, with some also calling for reforms in the monarchy.
For months now, Thailand has seen almost daily rallies that have drawn support from high school and university students across the country.
Chanting “Down with dictatorship, long live democracy” and “Stop harassing the people”,the protesters have called for the dissolution of the military-backed government. They have also demanded an end to the intimidation of activists and reforms to the constitution, which was written under military rule.
Critics say the constitution unfairly allowed the prime minister, Prayuth Chan-o-cha, who first came to power during the 2014 coup, to win last year’s elections.
A statement released by Free People, a coalition of mostly student-led groups, which organised Sunday’s protests, said it aspired to see “democratic reform of government with the monarch truly under the constitution”.
In recent weeks, students have voiced increasingly direct criticisms of the monarchy, breaching a long-standing taboo.
Last week, at a rally attended by thousands, a protest group issued a 10-point list for reform of the monarchy – a move that shocked many – including allowing criticism of the monarchy, and called for the king’s powers to be curbed.
Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws are among the strictest in the world. Criticising the king can lead to a jail sentence of up to 15 years, though Prayuth has said the king requested that it should not be used at the moment. Such laws also limit media reporting within the country that relates to the royal family.
On top of frustration over the economy, which was struggling even before the coronavirus pandemic, students say they are fed up with a government they accuse of undermining democracy.
Anger among students flared in February when the government dissolved an opposition party, Future Forward, which was especially popular among young people.
Then, reports emerged that pro-democracy activist Wanchalearm Satsaksi had been abducted in Cambodia – the latest of several exiled activists to disappear in recent years. The government and the military have denied involvement.
“I don’t think that human rights can exist in a dictatorship,” said a 22-year-old student who asked not to be named.
In its statement on Sunday, the Free People group said there must be no coup d’état, nor a government of national unity installed.
Prayuth has said he was uncomfortable with comments made about the monarchy, but that he would listen to the concerns in relation to the constitution.
Young people should be allowed to express themselves, within the limits of the law and with respect to others’ rights, his spokesperson has said. (Source: The Guardian)