Dressed in tight hats and black, thousands of people gathered in Bangkok on Sunday, using Hong Kong-inspired tactics to challenge the authorities and demand that the Prime Minister resign and the power of the royal family be restrained.
The government is struggling to control an unprecedented student-led movement that started on university campuses and has since spread to the streets across the country. Protesters have risked lengthy prison sentences to break the country’s latest taboo and call for reforms in the monarchy, demanding that the institution respond to the people. They also want broader democratic reforms including a new constitution.
In a cat-and-mouse game with police, which has already arrested dozens of activists on charges such as insurgency, protest leaders told followers to wait on alert Sunday, the fifth day of the riots. Where are we going to meet today hmmm? a key protest group posted on Facebook, before later urging people to gather quickly at two of Bangkok’s busiest travel centers, Victory Monument and Asok.
Last week the government announced a ban on gatherings of more than four people in the capital in a bid to stop the demonstrations. It has since increased legal threats, warning that people could face up to two years in prison if they put up a selfie at a rally.
At least 80 people have been arrested, including key protest leaders, according to Thai Human Rights Lawyers. Two people were charged under a rarely used law banning violence against the queen after a group of people hacked a royal convoy carrying Queen Suthida last week. The charges carry a potential death sentence if her life is thought to be threatened.
At the Victory Monument, where about 10,000 people gathered, protesters waved pictures of detained activists, chanting the release of our friends and calling for dictatorship slave slaves.
A police spokeswoman, Kissana Phathanacharoen, told a news conference: “We are committed to maintaining peace and order. To do this, we are bound by laws, international standards, human rights.
In scenes reminiscent of pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong, crowds of protesters in Bangkok used hand gestures to convey messages and formed human chains to pass umbrellas to people in front of rallies. Many protesters put on tight hats and goggles as a precaution after a water cannon was thrown to disperse the crowds, including schoolchildren, on Friday.
Supplies of face masks and bottled water purchased from donations collected online were distributed to protesters. Meanwhile, at a train station that closed its doors in accordance with a government order intended to stop protesters, dog food was left along with a note reading a loyal dog deserves a reward.
Protests also took place in at least 19 other provinces on Sunday, with crowds in many places turning on their phone lights after dark. Solidarity protests were being held or planned in Europe, the US, Canada and Taiwan. Hong Kong activists such as Joshua Wong and Nathan Law sent messages of support.
The law described the Thai protesters as brave and said students from both movements were fighting against undemocratic systems. The structure of the problem is different, but at the end of the day we see many parallels between the two cases, he said, pointing to the use of legal charges and water cannons against protesters and the closure of transport systems to try to disrupt rallies. . These little tricks share the same color.
Ties between students in Hong Kong and Thailand have grown in recent months, with internet activists joining forces against authoritarianism, using the hashtag milk tea alliance, a playful reference to their shared love of drinking.
Student-led protests in Thailand began earlier this year when courts banned a prominent opposition party that was popular among young people. The rallies were halted due to the coronavirus pandemic but have resumed in recent months, with young people saying they are tired of an institution they accuse of stifling democracy and mismanaging the country.
Protesters are calling for the replacement of the constitution, which was passed under military rule and which they say gave the prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, an unfair advantage in recent elections. Prayuth, who first came to power in the 2014 coup, denies this and has rejected calls to resign.
The students have also challenged the monarchy, an institution long considered untouchable and which, according to the constitution, is enthroned in a position of venerable worship. Anyone who slanders, insults or threatens the king, queen, heir or regent could face up to 15 years in prison.
Despite this, protesters have continued to demand reforms, arguing that the monarchy and the army with which it is closely linked must be held accountable if Thailand will have a true democracy.
The king, who spends most of his time living in Germany, succeeded his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in 2016 and has since strengthened his authority. After the succession, he took direct control of a palace estate valued at tens of billions of dollars, as well as several army units.
On Saturday protesters painted a flag on the street along with the words Republic of Thailand. The writing was painted overnight.
The royal palace did not comment on the protesters’ demands.