Protesters take part in a Hamtaro-themed fun run during an anti-government rally in front of Democracy Monument in Bangkok on July 26. (Photo: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP)
A prominent hardcore royalist has called on Thai businesses to stop hiring young people who have been participating in ongoing anti-government demonstrations in what rights activists say is a violation of the constitution, which prohibits discrimination on such grounds.
In a newly launched campaign, Dr. Rienthong Nanna, a physician who is director of the private Mongkutwattana Hospital in Bangkok, has urged Thais to send him images of anti-government demonstrators so that he could then publicly shame them and try to get them fired from their job or expelled from their school.
Over the past two weeks, several student-led protests have erupted around the country with young Thais calling for the military-allied government to resign. Thousands of university, college and high school students have been participating in peaceful protests.
Some protesters have displayed signs with coded messages that could be interpreted as critical comments about the country’s monarchy, which Thai authorities consider a sacrosanct institution.
“First, volunteers should quietly infiltrate and take the photos of these people who joined the god-damned protests,” Rienthong, who founded an arch-conservative movement, said in a post on social media. “Try to make sure the photos have detailed faces so that their identities can be traced,” he advised.
“Second, send them to my Facebook inbox, Rianthong Nanna, or email [them to me],” added the doctor, who said he will send the details of the identified protesters to government agencies, universities, educational institutions and businesses so that action could be taken against them.
A hardline royalist who has repeatedly decried critics of the conservative elite as “trash,” Rianthong caused widespread outrage in 2010 when he called on doctors to refuse to treat pro-democracy protesters injured in a bloody crackdown by the military.
The move was widely panned by rights activists as a violation of the professional conduct expected of doctors who are supposed to treat sick and injured people regardless of their political views or affiliations.
Several years ago the hospital director also founded a vigilante group called Rubbish Collection Organization with the aim of reporting people critical of Thailand’s monarchy to the authorities.
The group collected and compiled details of people it said had made critical comments and handed the files over to the authorities so that the alleged culprits could be arrested and imprisoned.
Any criticism of the royal family in Thailand is punishable by law with long prison sentences.
“I see myself as the person who sweeps the dusty floor,” Rienthong said in an interview in 2014, shortly after the Royal Thai Army had overthrown a democratically elected government in May that year.
“When I first sweep it, the dust will be blown all over the place. But once I get the dust in the same pile, the floor will look cleaner,” he explained.
Thai authorities, including army chief Gen. Apirat Kongsompong, have warned student protesters against voicing any criticisms of the monarchy.
Thai police have called on students to stop protesting, citing an emergency decree that prohibits large gatherings.
The decree was issued by the government in March ostensibly with the aim of enacting policies to stop the spread of Covid-19. It remains in place even though Thailand has had no recorded local transmissions of the potentially deadly coronavirus for around two months.