Students are now facing the threat of further prosecution as they call on the public to show solidarity with the cause by personal actions between now and then. On Sunday, there was apparent relief within government circles that the protest had passed off peacefully which has been followed by a call for objective and responsible reporting of events from the Prime Minister’s Office.
There was a sudden halt to what turned out to be a peaceful protest on Saturday and Sunday by students which culminated in the presentation of a 10 point proposal for reform of the monarchy to a representative of the Privy Council on Sunday morning. The students plan to continue their activity outside Parliament on Thursday and have called for a General Strike on October 14th, the anniversary of the 1973 student uprising which dislodged Thailand’s military government at that time.
Thai student leaders ended their protest on Sunday morning after switching the target of their march from Government House to the Office of The Privy Council. This was the surprise promised on Sunday but it appears that the protestor’s move had been anticipated.
The march was intercepted by police near the Thai Supreme Court and protest leader Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul presented a petition calling for reform of the Thai monarchy addressed to the President of the Privy Council, General Surayud Chulanont, to Metropolitan Police Bureau Chief, Police Lieutenant General Pakapong Pongpetra.
Plaque erected on Sanam Luang parade grounds
Earlier, the student leaders including Ms Panusaya and Mr Parit Chiwarak, attended the installation of a plaque on the Sanam Luang parade grounds which reasserted the sovereignty of the people in Thailand.
It is reported that a similar plaque, installed there during the 1932 peaceful revolution which transformed Thailand into a constitutional monarchy, had been removed in 2017.
End of peaceful protest welcomed by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and the Prime Minister
The de-escalation of the protest so early on Sunday came as a surprise but was welcomed by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and the Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha, who both issued a statement thanking the protestors while praising the police and security services for helping to protect those taking part in what transpired to be a peaceful event.
Student protest leaders continue their fight with a call for a General Strike on October 14th next
Nevertheless, the student leaders who this weekend focused their attention on the monarchy, are still pursuing their goals of seeking the removal of General Prayut’s government, a new constitution and an end to what they term legal harassment of political opposition activists.
The protest leaders plan to meet again on Thursday, September 24th to demonstrate outside parliament where they will renew their call for a new constitution replacing the 2017 charter which the protesters and the parliamentary opposition see as unfairly biased in favour of the establishment particularly the military and senior officials who control the kingdom.
The principal point of contention is the unelected Thai upper house or Senate which still retains a critical say in electing the next Prime Minister.
The students are also seeking legislative reform especially relating to free speech rights and the removal of Article 112 of the Thai Criminal Code regarding lèse-majesté and other restrictive legislation which stifles political expression.
The protest leaders, on Sunday, also called for a General Strike in Thailand on October 14th, the anniversary of the 1973 student rising which overthrew the military government of Thanom Kittikachorn known for its strong anti-communist campaign, at that time against communist sympathisers aided by China.
Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong voiced his support on Saturday for Thai students
Ironically, one of the key foreign supporters of the protest movement over the weekend was Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong who is currently fighting the Chinese Communist Party’s growing stranglehold and suppression of free speech in the former British colony.
Hong Kong was handed back to China by the United Kingdom in 1997 under a bilateral agreement negotiated between the two countries which sought to preserve the rights of Hong Kong citizens.
On Saturday evening, Mr Wong tweeted: ‘Despite heavy rains, tens of thousands of Thais staged the largest rally since 2014, fighting for democracy and their future today. Clearly, with their relentless passion for the place that they love, brave people in Thailand are making history again.’
Online, many Thai students and the younger generation in the kingdom support what is termed the pro democracy Milk Tea Alliance between Thai and Hong Kong activists as well as students in Taiwan who fear China’s growing military aggression and threats towards their country.
Police signal that charges may be forthcoming against the protest leaders over this weekend’s rally
Hours after the protest had ended, Thai police in Bangkok signalled that the student leaders could face prosecution over events on Saturday and Sunday most especially in relation to the take over of the Sanam Luang parade grounds.
Deputy Chief of the Metropolitan Police, Major General Piya Tawichai, told reporters on Sunday that police would be contacting authorities at Thammasat University to see if they wished to make a complaint about the criminal damage to the university’s premises into which the protest movement forced its way on Saturday.
Similarly, police will also be consulting with the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority over the damage inflicted on the Sanam Luang parade ground which it is responsible for maintaining.
A report is expected by key officials from workers currently inspecting the park who have begun to clear up after the short overnight protest.
A senior police official also said that the leadership of the protest may face charges under the Public Assembly Act for breaches of the agreed conditions for the protest particularly the change of venue.
40 officers reviewing video footage of the event and speeches from the stage on Saturday and Sunday
Police are also scouring footage of the event and speeches on Saturday evening and Sunday.
A team of 40 officers are going through the content of the speeches and may use it as evidence to bring further prosecutions against those participating, many of whom are already facing multiple charges of sedition and other offences including breaches of the Computer Crime Act.
Police have advised that the student plaque be removed by Bangkok Metropolitan officials
It is also being reported that police are encouraging officials at city hall to remove the brass plaque installed in concrete by the protest leaders at Sanam Luang.
The protest leadership installed the plaque on the 20th September at 6.39 am on what they were advised would be an ‘auspicious’ moment for their cause.
Protestors attending the site were also asked to pray for and remember those who had taken part and fallen at previous protests and activity in the pursuit of democracy in Thailand.
‘Penguin’ calls for three-finger salute at the cinema and other protest tactics in the runup to a strike
Before the culmination of the protest, on Sunday, key leader Mr Parit also known as ‘Penguin’ while calling for the General Strike on October 14th, also encouraged the crowd and wider public to show their displeasure at the current regime and solidarity with student demands by refusing to stand up for the national anthem in cinemas.
Instead, Mr Parit suggested the cinema-goers raise the now-familiar three-finger salute.
The student leader listed eight separate tactics for a personal protest to be used by those who wished to show solidarity with the cause in the runup to next month’s strike.
This included the erection of signs against the Prime Minister when visiting locations within the kingdom and a boycott of one of Thailand’s leading banks.
Call for objective reporting from Thai media
On Sunday, following the lifting of tension relating to the event which many feared could turn violent, Mr Anucha Buraphachaisri of the Prime Minister’s Office in Bangkok requested that Thai media outlets report the protest and its aftermath in a straightforward and clear manner to avoid misunderstanding or the creation of deeper tensions.
‘The prime minister wants all Thai people to join hands to overcome the obstacles that we are facing so that we can come out of the crisis together with great success,’ Mr Anucha said.