Leading loyalist, hospital director and arch-conservative Major General Rienthong Nanna, calls on his followers to infiltrate the ‘damned protests’ and send photos to his inbox so that he can ‘end the future’ of those who oppose Thailand’s core values by having firms and public institutions blacklist them.
Thailand’s Border Patrol Force commander, Major General Pairoj Thantham, has denied reports that it is preparing to arrest protestors at planned rallies over the weekend as the deadline given by the protest leaders on Saturday, July 18th, expires this weekend. The commander of the force has explained that an official memo, seen by the media, is simply a routine measure so authorities are prepared for any eventuality. The news story has been dismissed by Free Youth leader, Tattep Ruangprapaikitseree, as a psychological ruse to intimidate protestors from coming out in large numbers.
There is underlying tension as the two-week deadline set by protestors for the government to comply with their key demands approaches next Saturday, the 1st August.
The demonstration, on the 18th July last, drew one of the biggest anti-government street protests since the coup of 2014 when 2,500 people turned up at the Democracy Monument in the centre of Bangkok to hear representatives of a group called Free Youth and the Students Union of Thailand demand a dissolution of the House of Representatives, a rewriting of the constitution and a halt to the harassment of political activists and opponents of the government.
However, since then, despite a number of public opinion polls showing support for the movement, there has been a muted response.
More counter-protests and opposition this week
What we are beginning to see, in a more pronounced fashion, is the rise of a counter-protest movement against the student-led rallies.
On Thursday, there are two protests scheduled for Democracy Monument including a conservative group called Archeewa Chuai Chart and students from a Bangkok technical college who want to rally in support of the Thai monarchy and traditional Thai values.
These moves follow a pro royalist protest on Friday outside army headquarters.
Conservative and arch royalist, Major General Rienthong Nanna, launches a campaign against student activists on social media
The movement to counter the protestors has also led to well-known ultra royalist leader and hospital director, Major General Rienthong Nanna, urging supporters of his movement, which is quite strong online, to infiltrate the student protests and send full facial photographs of protestors insulting the monarchy to his Inbox on Facebook as part of an orchestrated campaign to identify those involved and see them potentially blacklisted from jobs and advancement both in the public and private sector.
‘First, volunteers should quietly infiltrate and take the photos of these people who joined the god damned protests. Try to make sure the photos have detailed faces that can be traced to their identity. Second, Send it through my Facebook inbox,’ Major General Rienthong announced on Facebook this week.
Criticised by a former member of the National Reform Council who questioned if it was ethical
Taken to task by Ticha na Nakorn, a former member of the National Reform Council, who also works in the education sector with young people, for his campaign, the hospital director fired back that Ms Ticha was the one who should be investigated to establish if she was involved in efforts to undermine the monarchy.
The director of a vocational educational centre questioned the conservative activist’s ethics on the basis of the nature of the campaign he proposed against protestors.
Conservative activist describes his campaign as ‘a project to end the future’ of opposition activists
Major General Rienthong has stated unequivocally what the object of his campaign is.
It is, he says, ‘a project to end the future’ of demonstrators involved in anti-government protests which the conservative activist sees as in opposition to Thailand’s traditional values and the monarchy.
Major General Rienthong’s comments echoed a similar theme expressed by Thai Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha, in recent months when he warned that those engaged in illegal protests risked their careers by breaking the law and urged their parents to take steps to protect the future of such young people.
Chulalongkorn University official asks whether campaign may be unconstitutional while Thammasat expert questions if it is legal
The campaign proposed by Major General Rienthong also drew criticism from Jessada Denduangboripant of Chulalongkorn University who asked the hospital director if a list of companies or institutions who might be engaged in discriminating against protesters was available.
It follows some commentary which suggests that such a campaign might be illegal under Section 27 of the 2017 constitution.
The constitution states: ‘Unjust discrimination against a person on the grounds of differences in origin, race, language, sex, age, disability, physical or health condition, personal status, economic and social standing, religious belief, education, or political view which is not contrary to the provisions of the Constitution, or on any other grounds shall not be permitted.’
Constitutional provision applies to state functionaries
The section also makes it clear that such protection extends to those working in the army and public sector allowing them their constitutional rights without being limited by the positions that they hold.
However, it should be noted that this only applies if the protest activity is legal under the law.
Thai police this week warned that until August 1st, all political gatherings are still illegal under the emergency decree.
The controversy has also drawn the attention of Sawatree Suksri of Thammasat University’s Faculty of Law, who points to Section 397 of Thailand’s Criminal Code and suggests that all citizens in the public sphere are protected from any act which may cause them to suffer ‘disgrace, trouble or annoyance’.
Legality of any action is for a court to decide
Of course, whether this section would apply to this situation would be a matter for legal practitioners and a court ultimately to decide. It would certainly not apply if the protest activity breached the law in any way.
Even with the emergency decree amended after July 31st with regard to political gatherings, such activity may fall foul of other laws which still depends on the circumstances.
Conservative forces are now mobilised
Nonetheless, there is no denying that conservative forces have now been mobilised by this protest wave which they infer, carry with it, criticism of the monarchy and Thailand’s traditional values.
This week, the leader of Free Youth, Tattep Ruangprapaikitseree, acknowledged that he was personally concerned for the safety of protestors but could not control their right to express themselves.
Protest leader dismissed police memo and comments as psychological pressure on protestors
Mr Tattep, on Wednesday, dismissed as an attempt to psychologically influence further planned protests, reports that police are preparing to arrest protestors and that riot police officers, attached to the Border Patrol Police force, have been mobilised.
‘They just want to threaten protesters,’ he said. ‘Our movement is not against the law or causing harm to anyone.’
This came after the Commander of the Border Patrol Police Force, Major General Pairoj, confirmed on Wednesday to news website Khaosod that there were no plans to arrest protestors but that a memo seen by the news website was genuine and was simply normal procedure so that authorities are prepared for any eventuality.
‘No, we’re not going to arrest them’ the top policeman said. ‘It’s the normal thing we do. We have to be prepared for orders. The accommodations are mainly for reinforcements from other provinces.’
However, he did reveal that facilities have been prepared in case the police do have a need to detain protestors including a guest suite for protest leaders.
‘I admit that some of the spaces are spared for protesters in case there’s an order to arrest them,’ he said.