Progressive Movement led by ex Future Forward leaders unveiled as the orchestrator behind Sunday’s political messages laser projected onto buildings in Bangkok raising the spectre of the Redshirt crackdown of 2010 and 1992 Black May which saw the quelling of huge protests in the city by the military.

In the midst of the economic turmoil and challenges faced by the government in the wake of the coronavirus shutdown, an attempt to beam political conflict back onto the national agenda on Sunday night occurred in the inner parts of Bangkok. A series of laser beamed images and notes were projected on to symbolically important buildings with messages referring to the 2010 Redshirt crackdown and the ‘Black May’ suppression of large protests in 1992 by Thai authorities and the military.

Pannika Wanich is one of the key leaders of the new Progressive Movement which laser beamed messages throughout Bangkok on Sunday night rekindling memories of the 2010 Redshirt crackdown and also Black May from 1992. There has been a muted response from authorities with reports that police are examining the incident for legal violations and condemnation from a senior military officer at the Ministry of Defence saying such acts were inappropriate at this time.

A spokesman for Thailand’s Ministry of Defence said on Tuesday that authorities are considering legal action against a group that staged a series of laser light shows across Bangkok on Sunday night linked with a political agenda.

The messages were displayed at various points in the centre of Bangkok which have symbolic significance and are linked to political events particularly the Redshirt crackdown of 2010 led by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship. 

94 people lost their lives in the 2010 Redshirt protests in Bangkok which were ended by the military 

In 2010, 94 people died in the clashes during that year and political tensions in Bangkok reached a boiling point with fears of an even greater conflagration.

Such fears led to military intervention to close down and disperse a protest camp that had been built in the centre of the city.

76 of those killed were civilians, 8 were soldiers with 6 health workers, 2 police officers and 2 reporters in a series of incidents over weeks.

Laser messages attempted to rekindle memories

Sunday’s messages attempted to rekindle memories of those events in connection with a series of seminars being promoted by the Progressive Movement.

The eye-catching messages were beamed by laser onto buildings and structures on Sunday night such as the Defence Ministry, Wat Pathum Wanaram, Central World Shopping Centre, the Ratchaprasong BTS Station and other locations linked with key events and historical incidents. 

The messages also included a reference to Black May 1992 when from the 17th to the 20th of that month, a large protest movement was also the subject of an army crackdown and loss of life.

Protests in 2010 were sympathetic to ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra and called for an election

The series of protests, at the time, was galvanised by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship.

Many were supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a 2006 coup in Thailand.

The crowds camped in Bangkok demanding a new election and the dissolution of parliament until it was finally broken up by the military after weeks of a tense and, at times, deadly standoff.

Laser displayed theme was #ตามหาความจริง which means ‘Finding the Truth’ in Thai language

The laser displays were all based on the theme #ตามหาความจริง which means ‘Finding the Truth’ in the Thai language.

On Monday night, the breakout act caught the imagination of millions of young Thai social media users on Twitter and other social networks when it emerged that the Progressive Movement led by former leaders of the now-dissolved Future Forward party was behind it.

Defence Ministry spokesman is scathing in his remarks about Sunday night’s escapade

On Tuesday, Lieutenant General Kongcheep Tantrawanich of the Ministry of Defence, in his capacity as spokesman, condemned what happened.

‘It seems they are trying to bring up past political events, but this could lead to misunderstanding by authorities and institutes,’ the senior military officer warned.

Thailand is already facing a massive crisis

He emphasised that during this current period of crisis within the kingdom as it faces the Covid 19 emergency, the creation of political division was inappropriate.

‘I personally find it inappropriate to project these messages on government and public buildings, which could spark disagreement amid a crisis that the country is already facing,’ Lieutenant General Kongcheep concluded.

Still cases before the courts relating to 2010

The army officer also pointed out that there were still ongoing legal cases from that period and that the job of finding the truth is one for the courts.

‘If the group wants to seek the truth, they can find it from evidence in legal cases, some of which have already seen verdicts while others are awaiting further legal procedures,’ he said disapprovingly. ‘National security authorities are considering legal action against the group and expect to find them soon.’

Progressive Movement owns up to the staging of the laser light shows across Bangkok on Sunday night

However, on Monday night the group behind the incident revealed itself to be the Progressive Movement including former Future Forward Party leaders.

They posted a video online which admitted to the activity and explained that it was a promotion for a series of lectures and information campaigns it is running in May.

Group led by the top three key figures in now-defunct Future Forward including Pannika Wanich

The Progressive Movement was formed in March.

It is led by former Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the dissolved party’s former secretary-general, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul and it’s combative former spokesperson, Pannika Wanich.

On Monday night, the video released identified the group as behind the displays and showed how the show was conducted with scenes from inside of a van moving about Bangkok.

It’s us, the people, ordinary men who join hands in seeking the truth-  said statement with a video

‘No need to sweat trying to find who projected the light for truths. It’s us, the people, ordinary men who join hands in seeking the truth,’ it said.

On Monday, Ms Pannika was even more blunt about the affair. 

‘I’d rather not use the word ‘admit’ since we never hide it. This is a campaign owned by no one and created by people wanting to know the truths of an important event in Thai political history. We’re the one who projected it. Don’t look anywhere else, and please don’t threaten small people with no voice,’ she said.

Police looking at what laws were violated

Police on Tuesday were still investigating the matter. Police Colonel Kissana Phatanacharoen, the deputy spokesman for the Royal Thai Police said: ‘This month, some people have tried to confuse society by reviving closed cases.’

The Deputy National Police Chief, Police General Suwat Chaengyodsuk, observed that police authorities were presently considering what legal violation had taken place but condemned the action for raising the prospect of conflict in Thailand at this time.

He said no decision had been made about bringing those responsible in for interrogation.

Millions of tweets linked with the campaign

In the meantime, Sunday’s performance and online video saw millions of tweets under a Thai hashtag ‘Finding the Truth’ on Monday and into Tuesday.

Some top government officials were muted in their response to what occurred on Sunday night

The response from senior government officials was initially muted.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said that the action was not to be considered as just a symbolic expression. 

The government’s top legal advisor, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam had nothing to say.

General Chaichan Changmongkol, the Deputy Minister of Defence, however, wanted to see robust police action against the perpetrators.

Further reading:

Police considering action against former Future Forward MP Pannika Wanich over startling claims

Future Forward Party dissolved – leadership banned from politics by Constitutional Court order

‘New normal’ life and economy could be here for 9 months warns Thai Prime Minister on Tuesday at briefing

Emergency decree extended by Thai government but politics behind the scenes abuzz with PPP party heave

Thai health boss strongly warns against public protests or political gatherings at this critical time

Constitutional court sets the real D-Day for the Future Forward Party as Friday, February 21st on loans case

Court ruling on Thanathorn shares opens other MPs to scrutiny and possible electoral law legal action