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Thai state steps up clampdown on student protesters

Children and a disabled woman among those arrested during anti-government protests this week

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

Published: October 08, 2021 04:43 AM GMT

Updated: October 08, 2021 04:52 AM GMT

Thai state steps up clampdown on student protesters

An anti-government protester poses in front of wreaths arranged for victims of the 1976 Thammasat University massacre during the annual commemoration ceremony for the event at Thammasat University in Bangkok on Oct. 6. (Photo: AFP)

Thai authorities continue to employ heavy-handed tactics against student protesters demanding democratic reforms in what observers have deemed a campaign of rights violations.

Police arrested 28 people during an anti-government protest on the night of Oct. 5, five of whom are minors and one of whom is only 11 years old, according to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

Meanwhile, on Oct. 7, police officers arrested Benja Apan, a female leader of a student group whose members have been calling for a reform of Thailand’s monarchy, which is officially regarded as beyond all criticism.

Benja, a 22-year-old university student who needs to use a wheelchair because of a severe disability, has now been charged with royal defamation, a crime punishable with up to 15 years in prison per count in Thailand, over a speech she gave in early September.

More than 120 Thais, mostly students, have been charged with royal defamation in less than a year in what rights groups say is an orchestrated official campaign by Thailand’s military-allied government to silence dissenting voices.

Yet despite government prohibitions on any further protests, a group of students gathered on Oct. 6 and 7 at Bangkok’s Thammasat University to commemorate the victims of a massacre of students on campus in 1976.

If we dream of a Thailand that is peaceful and free from political violence, we must come together to defend the rights and liberties of everyone

In an orgy of violence on Oct. 6 that year, police officers and right-wing paramilitaries murdered 46 students while injuring another 167 people for protesting against a military dictatorship.

During the commemorative event at Thammasat University, students laid wreaths and held a vigil in memory of those killed 45 years ago.

The mother of pro-democracy activist Parit Chiwarak, a 23-year-old student of the institution who is in prison and has been charged with 20 counts of royal defamation, read a statement by her son to those gathered.

“It is brutality on the part of the Thai state to arrest people and imprison them in cramped jail cells just because these people think and believe differently from what the state orders,” Parit said.

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“If we dream of a Thailand that is peaceful and free from political violence, we must come together to defend the rights and liberties of everyone.

“We must also abolish all laws and all provisions [in the Criminal Code and the constitution] that limit people’s freedom of expression and right to free assembly in order to allow Thai society to progress toward justice, reconciliation and democracy.” 

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