After the rally by the “Free Youth” group at the Democracy Monument on 16 August 2020, the political situation has continued to be heated as students in many schools all over the country have expressed their political opinions, notably by performing the three-finger salute during the national anthem, wearing white bows against dictatorship, and showing blank sheets of paper.
Amidst these circumstances, the restrictions of students’ activities are extensive. Schools have become unsafe spaces as a result of abuses by the people in power at different levels, while investigation of the issues has been difficult.
On 17 August 2020, the TLHR published a complaint form for students who have experienced harassment by teachers, professors, schools, colleges, or state officials. TLHR has also simultaneously continued to receive complaints via hot lines and texts.
Three days afterwards, on 19 August 2020, the number of complaints received via different channels as well as cases monitored from news reports by the media and NGOs has amounted to 103 in total.
Among the 103 cases, 56 occurred in the central and eastern regions of Thailand, 8 in the northern region, 29 in the northeastern region, and 10 in the south.
These complaints only concern cases of harassment and censorship as a result of political expression – including making the three-finger salute, wearing white bows, and showing blank papers – and other forms of harassment, such as mandatory haircuts for students, sexual or mental harassment, confiscation of mobile phones, or impacts from unfair rules.
The forms of restrictions on freedom of expression that occurred in the course of this three-day period can be summarized as follows:
Schools banning three-finger salute, white bows or political activities
The main format of censorship of students’ expression has taken place by school executives or teachers banning the act of making the three-finger salute or wearing white bows and prohibiting any political expressions in the school grounds. The orders appeared either in the form of verbal announcements by school executives, summoning students to talk following the activities and forbid them from doing them again, or a formal instruction.
The pretexts given by teachers and school executives for prohibiting the political expression include: not wanting to turn the school into a political “tool”; claiming that schools must be a neutral space; claiming that schools are an official institution and must be kept clear of politics; damage to the school’s reputation; risks of causing conflict or disorder, and; not wanting the school uniform or academic institution used for the activities.
In some cases, teachers also recognized the students’ right to freedom of expression yet used other reasons to ban their activities regardless.
At the Eastern College of Technology (E-Tech) in Chonburi province, many students flashed the three-finger salute during the line-up, which led the principal to ban the act on campus and while in uniform. If the students wish, they might flash the three-finger salute elsewhere. The principal claimed that he did not want to see the college being used as someone’s tool and that he would check the CCTV to see who had performed the salute.
At Satriwitthaya 2 School in Bangkok, a group of students, after having distributed white bows and fixed posters explaining their meaning, was summoned by school executives to the discipline office. They stated that even though the activities were considered freedom of expression and not a crime, they insisted that they did not wish the students to express political opinions as the school must be neutral and such acts might affect the school’s reputation. The school executives also required that the students not hand out any more items and focus mainly on their study.
At a girls’ school in Samsen area in Bangkok, students reported that the teachers had announced a ban on the three-finger salute during the national anthem and made them remove white bows from their school bag following the series of political activities, even though white bows had always been a common accessory at the school. Later, when a number of M.5 students disobeyed the order and made the salute, the whole class was lectured. According to the teachers, although they admitted that students had the right to freely express opinions, they should do so elsewhere. Nevertheless, the students who joined the Free Youth rally outside the school were still summoned to talk.
At the same time, some schools have issued a formal announcement banning political activities. In Bodindecha Nonthaburi School, after students had made the three-finger salute during the national anthem on 17 August 2020, the principal announced an area control measure prohibiting any political gatherings or expressions on the school ground. The said announcement was later removed from the school’s homepage after it was picked up by the media.
Heavy intervention regarding the three-finger salute including slapping head/hand/phone
In addition to the abovementioned prohibition on activities, an immediate form of restriction was also observed in schools: teachers in some schools used violence during the students’ act to stop it.
One serious case involved a school in Nakhon Sawan province on 17 August 2020 in which a teacher scolded the students, who were making the three-finger salute, using rude words, then slapped the mobile phone of the student, who was filming the activity, out of his hand. The teacher also made the student delete the recorded video clip.
In Nakhon Ratchasima province, it was reported that a teacher hit several students in the head, while they were making the three-finger salute, claiming that the school was not a protest venue. Some students had their migraine worsened. The teacher also snatched the white bows tied to students’ bags as well as taking pictures of the students.
The media has reported another case in Lukhamhanwarinchamrab School in Ubon Ratchathani in which a M.4 student flashed the three-finger salute during the national anthem and had her arm pulled down by the class teacher. While she was asked to explain the meaning of the action and looking for information in her phone, the teacher heavily slapped her in the head and pushed away her phone. Hurt and embarrassed, she, together with the Working Group of the Committee on Government of the Parliament, went to report the case to the police.
At the same time, four other cases were also reported, where teachers hit, the students in the hand while making the three-finger salute to stop the action and reproached them. A student in Suphanburi province said that the vice-principal had squeezed her arm and told her to lower her hand.
Students in Udon Thani revealed that during the salute the teachers were yelling at them repeatedly to lower their hands. Another student who had tried to record the event also got stopped and had his phone handed over for inspection. Likewise, in Phichit students making the salute were approached by teachers during the line-up in front of the flagpole, accused of wanting attention, and warned that they would be called to the discipline office.
Confiscating white bows and other items
Apart from the intervention relating to the three-finger salute, banning or even confiscating white bows and other items used is another identified form of restriction that has been reported.
Students at the Bangpakok Wittayakom School had placed a give-away box of white bows at school, before they were summoned by the vice-principal to inquire about their objective in doing so. He then confiscated the box claiming that it would hurt the school’s reputation and that the students must get permission from the principal before organizing any activities. He also told the students to wait until they reach voting age before expressing anything.
At a school in Bangkok Noi District in Bangkok, after many students had tied white bows to their bags and wrists, without making the three-finger salute, some of them had the bows snatched from their wrists and confiscated by teachers.
At a school in Sukhothai province, students reported that teachers had cut and confiscated the white bows and threatened to call them to the discipline office as well as deduct their marks.
Teachers scolding with harsh words
The teachers’ orders in some schools relied on strong words, impacting the students mentally.
TLHR has received reports from students in Ratchaburi province who had performed the three-finger salute noting that one of their teachers said that only “the hungry ghosts (curse word), the buffalos (curse word), and the stupid” would do such things. If the students continued the activity, they would be no longer students and teacher.
At a school in Nakhon Si Thammarat province, a teacher called a student’s three-finger salute “silly and stupid. You already finished the scout class since M.3, why do you want to go back and repeat it?” Insulted, the student made the complaint.
At a school in Roi Et province, a female student complained that she was summoned by a male teacher to have a talk in the discipline office, after she had tied a white bow around her wrist and fixed the text, “Let it end with our generation” on her bag. The teacher lectured her on the student’s duties to focus on the study and stay away from politics and also uttered the sentence, “Don’t act like scum”, which strongly offended the student.
Another student in a school in Bangna District in Bangkok who flashed the three-finger salute during the line-up was summoned by a teacher, who said that the act was inappropriate and immature and would make it difficult to be in the society. The teacher, using an authoritative tone and not listening to the students’ opinions, said that if the student wanted to do something like this, to do so elsewhere.
An accusation was also identified in the teachers’ reproach linking the three-finger salute to an anti-royalist attempt. At a school in Bangkok that has a close tie with the monarchy, two students who made the salute during the national anthem were accused of not respecting the monarchy by the teacher, who also said that students should stay away from politics and asked to check students’ mobile phones.
Teachers threatening to call parents or impose penalties
Besides strong words, threats were also thrown at students in various ways, including calling the parents, punishment, mark deduction, probation, or expulsion.
At a school in Lampang province, a student with three other friends were called by a discipline teacher to be reproached for wearing white bows. The teacher said that he would inform their parents and invite them to talk at the school, as well as taking pictures of the four of them.
At a school in Minburi district in Bangkok, many students were summoned by a teacher after jointly performing the three-finger salute, claiming that the act symbolized the Nazi representing cruelty and violence and likely to cause disharmony. The teacher also made threats that he might invite parents to talk, inspect students’ phones, and give a 0 grade.
Moreover, at the same school, students sent images of political activities to the common Line chat group between teacher and fellow students, triggering the teacher to warn that he would summon them to talk. Later, the teacher inquired in the chat group who performed the three-finger salute during the line-up and prohibited it and said that he would summon those disobeying the order.
Students at a school in Yasothon province reported that some students were called by teacher threatening to deduct the marks of those making the salute and saying that wearing white bows required advance permission.
At a school in Sa Kaew province, the teacher did not allow the students to wear white bows claiming that it would damage the school’s reputation and was considered a disrespect to the school. The teacher also threatened the students wearing the bows asking whether they wanted to change schools.
A female student at a school in Khon Kaen province, who had tied a white bow around her wrist and covered her name with a tape, was approached by teacher who said that if she did not remove the tape, the teacher would call her parents and ask the academic department to remove her name from the school system.
Students in Satun province indicated that the teacher announced in front of the flagpole that schools were an official place and the three-finger salute was not appropriate. Later, the principal summoned the student who performed the salute saying that he should not do it and threatening him of removing him from the sports program which sponsored his scholarship.
At another school in Chonburi province, students revealed that after the national anthem, those making the three-finger salute were summoned and lectured on appropriateness and the school’s reputation. There were also threats of deducting their marks and failing them in his class as well as forbidding the students from recording video and audio by withholding the students’ phone.
Police patrolling in schools, approaching students
On top of the restrictions or violations by teachers and school executives, students in many schools also experienced state harassment, especially by police officers monitoring their activities that had been announced in advance. The schools allowed the officials to come into the area to record the events or even talk to the students.
Students at a school in Rayong province revealed that after a group of students had made the three-finger salute, more than 10 police officers in uniform and plain clothes came to give them a lecture and take pictures. Later, the students were summoned to talk in the principal’s office and asked them to discontinue the activities in the afternoon, when there would be a class on Thai monarchies and Thai history, even though the students had not planned anything in the afternoon.
At Srikranuanwittayakom School in Khon Kaen province, police officers from Kranuan Police Station reportedly confiscated the white bows that students had prepared to wear and patrol around the school before the national anthem. Later, a police officer called the person who posted about this incident and asked him to delete the part about the confiscation, but the person insisted not to.
At Triamudom Suksa Nomklao School, a student who flashed the three-finger salute during the national anthem was called to the discipline office the day after, in which police officers were present to talk, collect information, and take pictures of the student. Later, a group of students organized an activity discussing the current politics in school and identified 4-5 police in plain clothes monitoring the event. Some of them carried a camera on their shirt and appeared to be recording. Moreover, police cars and police in uniform were also observed in the school area.
Similarly, at Samsen Wittayalai School, while a group of students was showing blank sheets of papers #justapaperdontcrybrother at Lan Phra yard, two men in plain clothes were seen observing and taking pictures of the students during the activity.
At Benjamarachutit School in Ratchaburi province, while students were collectively performing the three-finger salute during the national anthem, a group of men with crew cut hair in plain clothes were spotted scattering around in front of the school as well as observing the activity within the school and trying to take pictures of the students.
While the students at Hatyaiwittayalai Somboonkulkanya School were organizing the activity #ourideologymustsurvive to collectively show blank sheets of paper in front of school, police officers from Hatyai Police Station were found inside the school handing out announcements warning the students not to violate the Emergency Decree and not to write any illegal statements, as well as apparently recording everything. Furthermore, more than 15 police officers in plain clothes were identified taking pictures of the event.
At Woranari Chaloem School in Songkhla province, seven students who posted texts inviting others to wear white bows on the wrist were summoned by a teacher to the discipline office and had their phones confiscated. It was also found that the school had allowed police officers in plain clothes in the school. Likewise, at Hatyaiwittayalai School, two police officers in plain clothes were found to be standing at the flyover in front of the school taking pictures of the students making the three-finger salute in front of the flagpole.
At a school in Roi Et province, after the students had performed the three-finger salute in the morning, police cars belonging to Mueang Roi Et Police Station were found parking in the school. Prior to that, a teacher had sent threatening texts, after an online page promoting political activities had been created using the school’s abbreviation.
The difficulties of the victims in terms of disclosing information
These events are merely “examples” of the restriction and harassment cases that students have submitted to the TLHR and as reported by the media. Amid such a heightened level of political alertness among students all over the country, the violations against children and young people must certainly far exceed the number reflected in this report.
At the same time, the TLHR has also noted complexity in the situations faced by young students, as some violated students did not dare come out to disclose their stories. In certain cases, teachers had warned students not to report it, to remove the twitter posts, or even to punish them, which led the students to remain silent and rather suffer the consequences by themselves.
Nevertheless, in light of these rampant restrictions, it has also been reported that teachers in some schools have allowed students to express opinions without imposing any censorship.