The commemoration of June 24th this year is organized amidst one of the tensest situations to mark Thailand’s transition to democracy. On its 88th anniversary, the activities are not only centered in historic places in Bangkok but also other parts of Thailand as people from various regions have organized various forms of action in memory of the incidence.
The surge of awareness of this history happened along with attempts to obliterate memories related to the People’s Party, for instance, the eradication of monuments or buildings related to the Siamese revolution, and history of the members of People’s Party during the past three to four years. Such awareness risen among the public shows the aspiration to redefine and revise the history of the June 24th, 1932, to serve the interest of contemporary politics.
In order to prevent the commemoration of the once “National Day of Thailand”, the authorities have resorted to measures to stifle, intimidate and monitor organizers of such commemoration in almost all places. Some events, as a result, have to be canceled or revised. Thus, it appears that the authority is waging an all-out war to ensure the June 24th Revolution remains a “banned history” and no one is allowed to memorize such event.
This report looks at the situation of human rights as far as the commemoration of June 24th in 2020 to mark the 88th anniversary of the Siam Revolution is concerned. Apparently, the attempt to obliterate such memories is in vain; in fact, it is predicted that the movement to commemorate the Siamese revolution will be even more revitalized in the next few years.
The commemoration of June 24th in, at least, 21 places in 15 provinces
On June 24, 2020, the activities to commemorate the 88th anniversary of the 1932 Revolution took place in at least 21 places in 15 provinces covering nearly all parts of the country in varying degrees. The activities were disproportionately high in the Northeast; the activities were held in 9 places including Ubonratchathani (2 places), Khon Kaen (2 places), Yasothon, Nakhon Ratchasima, Mahasarakham, Surin and Roi-et.
Seven events were organized in Central and Eastern Thailand including Bangkok (4 places), Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, Nakhon Pathom (Mahidol University, Salaya Campus) and Rayong. The North had two events in Chiang Mai and the South had three events in Surat Thani, Trang and Songkhla’s Hat Yai District.
The activities took place in various formats. A common thread among them was either reciting or playing the audio record of “The Peoples’ Party Declaration no.1” and decorate the venue with a replica of the People’s Party plaque.
Symbolic actions also took place with activists gesturing to sweep the area around the Democracy Monument or historic places related to the People’s Party as well as staging a play, holding the banners, wrapping the white ribbons to demand justice and lighting candles for commemoration.
In Bangkok, activities have been held to ask for progress of the proposed amendment of the Constitution 2017 from the House of Representatives. The constitutional reform is a campaign launched by the Campaign Committee for People’s Constitution (CCPC).
Among actions in public places was unfurling the banners with the message to commemoration the June 24th, demand for democracy and show opposition to dictatorship in various places. For instance, in front of the Faculty of Law, Ram Khamhaeng University and on nearby pedestrian flyover there was a banner that read “The 88th anniversary of democracy, who holds the power?” Meanwhile, there was another banner that read “Proliferating heritage of the People’s Party, Obliterating the Dictatorship” at a pedestrian flyover in front of Khon Kaen University. In Phu Kiaw District, Chaiyaphum, a banner with a quote from the Peoples’ Party Declaration and an image of the People’s Party plaque were put up at the Democracy Monument. There is also the projection of images of prominent members and the People’s Party plaque by a graffiti artist, Headache Stencil.
On the online platform, there are several online streaming of panel discussions on the 1932 Revolution, the heritages of the People’s Party, memories and attempts to obliterate memories as well as many online publications of the Siamese revolution of 1932.
Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning that in Bangkok at least two groups organized activities to oppose the commemoration of June 24th. They staged their actions close to where the activists were commemorating June 24th. The first group read a 51-page-royal petition vocalizing their opposition to the People’s Party in front of the Parliament buildings. Meanwhile, another group, composed of 4-5 people, was holding signs demanding that the country be allowed to move forward and remain united at the Skywalk, the Pathumwan intersection at the same time the student activists were organizing a commemoration.
Three activities stymied, one canceled in the middle
Attempts to commemorate a historic day this year were met with fierce resistance, intimidation and harassment. On the police’s side, the Royal Thai Police Chief instructed law enforcement officials to closely monitor any movements related to the event. The police even classified 12 provinces as risk areas to be closely monitored. They even came out to warn that any symbolic acts on that day could be an infringement of the law, the Emergency Decree in particular.
Due to such firm instructions, police forces thus have been deployed in various historical spots, some of which were sealed off with barriers including the Equestrian Statue Plaza which was surrounded by a number of police. The press were prevented from taking pictures. The barriers were installed. The surveillance is elevated around the Democracy Monument in Bangkok and the statue of Field Marshal Sarit in Khon Kaen.
In Khon Kaen, apart from the installation of iron barriers, more than a dozen of firetrucks were parked to cordon off the area by putting up the banner read “Sorry for any inconvenience caused, a fire drill is taking place”.
Even though the area was sealed off by the authorities and the sign saying fire drill was taking place was present, Khon Kaen students defiantly came out to hold the commemoration June 24that the Democracy Monument
Efforts to stifle and intimidate students and the public to prevent them from holding the commemoration were rampant. The Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) finds that of 21 planned activities, three have been prevented from happening including events to be held at the King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang in Bangkok and the activities in Surin and Roi-et Provinces.
At Ladkrabang, the students announced an intention to hold a “Cleanup Day” to mark “The Looting of National Day”. It had to be cancelled as the university administration, the police and district authority used the measures for the prevention of COVID-19 outbreak to force the organizer to halt. They even threatened that any person who makes a speech concerning other people could face prosecution. Claiming for the need for disease prevention, they even asked for a name list of people involving in the activity. The university claimed they need to submit information about the organizers and participants to the authorities. Under such pressure, the students decided to call off the action and changed to livestreaming of the reading of their statement via Facebook.
Similarly, Roi-et Rajabhat University students had to call off their activity after the University’s Office of Student Affairs had voiced their concern about the activity and how it could help to spread the COVID-19 infection. They also reminded the students that the country was being ruled under the Emergency Decree. As a result, the students have changed to live streaming their reading of “The Peoples’ Party Declaration” via Facebook.
In Surin, the organizers could not bear with the mounting pressure prior to the scheduled event. Three plainclothes police officers and the village headman had gone to visit them at home warning them against holding such activities and threatening them with prosecution. The authorities even threatened them by evoking the massacre of students during the October 6th, 1976. This prompted them to call off the event.
Even though the activities at the three places were called off, plainclothes and uniform officers were spotted in the areas where the commemoration was supposed to take place.
In addition, there was a panel discussion by the Southern Peasants’ Federation of Thailand (SPFT) in Surat Thani on “The 88th anniversary of June 24th, 1932, from absolute monarchy to democracy.” However, the authorities claimed to have received instructions from the District Chief Officer to inquire about the content of the discussion and its schedule to keep them informed of what would be discussed. As a result, the organizers decided to call off the discussion just one hour before the scheduled time.
Revision of activities in three places as a result of pressure
Moreover, the activities to commemorate June 24th have been revised as a result of pressure by public officials in Yasothon, Nakhon Ratchasima and Ubonratchathani University.
In Yasothon, originally, the Democracy Group planned to start their activity at 17.30. Prior to that, they received a phone call from the public officers who warned them against organizing the activity and threaten that they would face prosecution as a result. The organizers then decided to revise the activity by cancelling public gathering and only having its four members holding signs that read “Ineradicable and Unforgettable” and light candles in a gesture of looking for democracy at the lawn in front of the Phra Sunthon Ratchawongsa Monument in the morning instead.
In Nakhon Ratchasima, the organizers informed the police that called them beforehand that they were planning to read ”The Peoples’ Party Declaration” at the Thao Suranari Monument. At first, they were not stopped by the police then. However, right before the commencement of the activity, the police barred them from reading the Declaration and threatened to put them under arrest instantly upon their reading. The organizers then decided to call off the reading and only proceeded to perform a merit making ceremony at the temple and hold signs in commemoration and a replica of the People’s Party plaque.
As to the activity at the Faculty of Political Science, Ubonratchathani University, the university was asked by the police to disallow any commemoration claiming that the Emergency Decree was still put in place. The University has acted in compliance with the request and refused to allow any activity. However, on June 24th, one student decided to stand still for ten minutes to commemorate the June 24th revolution of 1932 with a sign explaining why a public gathering had to be called off amidst close monitoring of plainclothes officers.
Intimidation, harassment and surveillance in nearly all places where activities were held
Of all planned activities to commemorate June 24th, at least 12 organizers faced intimidation and harassment before the activities took place and at least five of them faced interference during the activities. Almost all activities have been announced publicly and this has put the organizers under close surveillance from the authorities ever since.
Efforts to intimidate and stymie happened with at least 12 events organized in Bangkok, Rayong, Ubonratchathani, Khon Kaen, Yasothon, Nakhon Ratchasima, Mahasarakham, Roi-et and Surin.
In Bangkok, barriers were put up around the Democracy Monument with signs saying, “No entry without permission, renovation in progress.” The police put traffic cones and barriers on the road from the Phan Fah Bridge to the Democracy Monument where at least three minivans, motorcycles were parked with the patrol deployment all over the area.
In the province, common harassment includes the police intervention to stop the organizers from holding their activities citing the Emergency Decree. They threatened that anyone holding such activities would likely to face prosecution under the Emergency Decree including in Yasothon, Roi-et and Ubonratchathani. At the Ubonratchathani University, plainclothes police officers approached two faculty members inquiring about their participation in such activities. They claimed they were concerned about their safety as the lecturers could be abducted by the military. Some officers were deployed around residences of the organizers.
In some provinces including Nakhon Ratchasima and Mahasarakham, the authorities did not prevent the activists to hold the activities. Rather, they warned them against mentioning the monarchy which could make them face prosecution related to the Penal Code’s Article 112.
Organizers in various areas managed to hold their activities as planned or with a minor change. Still, they found a throng of officers at the events who closely monitored every move they made. In some places, the officers patrolled around the venues asking to see the participants’ ID cards, taking still and moving pictures of the activities and the participants as well as signs showing their freedom of expression.
As to the “Ineradicable and Unforgettable” activity by the Democracy Restoration Group (DRG) at the Democracy Monument, the authorities insisted that it could not take place since it was to be carried out in “traffic space and might violate the law.” Activists were told to get behind the barriers on the footpath installed just the night earlier by the officers. Some officers intervened to prevent the installation of the white screen for hologram projection to simulate the reading of the People’s Party Declaration.
The “Reading of the Peoples’ Party Declaration again, and to let it be known to whom this country belongs” was organized by the Student Union of Thailand (SUT) and the Free YOUTH at Skywalk, Pathumwan intersection. The officers tried to isolate the press from the participants by confining the press crew behind a specific area citing COVID-19 precaution. And when the reading of “The Peoples’ Party Declaration” was taking place, the officers also were scouring documents in their hands to match ID participants with the people who used to participate in the past activities or demonstrations. After the activity was completed, more than five plainclothes officers followed the organizers when they went to an eatery and parking lot.
In Khon Kaen, plainclothes police officers have inquired the organizers about COVID-19 precaution measure and messages on the signs prepared by them. They wanted to know if the messages were related to Article 112. Then, the activists were allowed to proceed with holding the activity at the Democracy Monument.
In Chiang Mai, the Lan Yim Group staged an Art Performance in commemoration of June 24th at the Tha Phae Gate as more than 20 plainclothes and uniform police officers were monitoring and taking photos even though there were just four or five performers.
Even in areas where no announcements have been made about any planned activities, the officers have reportedly surveilled the local activists and kept inquiring them if they would organize anything on June 24th. For example, Prasert Nguansuwan, an activist in Phrae Province was contacted by officers from various agencies. He got inquiries via Facebook messenger, Line message and phone and officers were dispatched to monitor his home. They claimed to have come from the Special Branch and were there to ask him for information and to take photos in order to send to their “commanders.”
Activities done, but harassment not done: Staying vigilant to the unfolding situation post June
Even after the commemorations of the historic day were completed, surveillance and harassment of people concerned persist. There have also been reports of possible prosecutions against them. The Deputy Spokesperson of the Royal Thai Police told BBC Thai that the police legal team and inquiry officers are reviewing if the activities to mark the anniversary of June 24th in Bangkok and 15-16 provinces might have caused an violation on certain laws.
In Bangkok, the Democracy Restoration Group who organized “Ineradicable and Unforgettable” event learned that the police were transcribing the video clip taken during the reading of the Peoples’ Party Declaration to find out if there is any part of it could trigger legal action. Similarly, for the activity at the Freedom and Democracy Bridge in Ubonratchathani where the Peoples’ Party Declaration was read, there have several reports that the authorities are contemplating on invoking Article 112 to hold all organizers accountable.
Several police officers in Phu Khiaw District, Chaiyaphum, have approached two activists previously involved with holding “Phu Khiaw, Enough is Enough” flash mob. They were inquired about the persons who hung a banner and an image of the People’s Party plaque at the Democracy Monument. As the two of them denied having any knowledge about this, the police asked them to identify the persons who put up the banners and to hold them accountable.
The quote from the Peoples’ Party Declaration and the image of the People’s Party plaque found at the Democracy Monument in Chaiyaphum prompting the police to approach the student activists previously involved with holding a flash mob and pressure them to identify the persons responsible for hanging the banners
The surveillance of activists is increasing. Student activists and members of the Student Union of Thailand were followed by plainclothes officers from the venue of their activity, Skywalk, Pathumwan intersection, to the restaurant they dined in. The officers even followed them by cars. In the same night, a graffiti artist, Headache Stencil, who previously organized a projection of prominent figures and the People’s Party plaque on a wall found himself a target of surveillance as four police officers have been dispatched to monitor him at his condominium for several hours prompting him to stay at another place that night.
In the following morning, when a panel discussion by the Southern Peasants’ Federation of Thailand (SPFT) was going to take place at the Klong Sai Pattana Community in Surat Thani, there have been reports that the District Chief Officer of Chaiburi with four officers have gone to the Klong Sai Pattana Community claiming it was a routine visit. In fact, it was the first time the District Chief Officer set his foot on the community. In Songkhla, three plainclothes officers have gone to the home of one of the student activists who announced their ‘cleanup activity’ at the Democracy Monument in Klong Wa, Hat Yai District.
Given the overt harassment of activists, particularly in light of the interview given by the Royal Thai Police’s Deputy Spokesperson, it is important to stay vigilant to further actions by the authorities in the upcoming months. It is possible that such weaponization of the law and other illegal measures could still be adopted to stifle people who dare to come out to express themselves and demand democracy as well as to show their inability to “forget” the history that has given rise to democracy in Thailand despite how much the state wants them to forget.
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