Tailor-made Repression and Unyielding Spirit

Chonticha Jangrew and 13 other pro-democracy activists are arrested in Bangkok on 26 June 2015.

In a world of targeted advertisements and surgical strikes, the Thai military junta is apt at tailor-made suppression of its opponents.

If you are among those influencers who haven’t given up opposing, or at least publicly resisting, the military regime, which has taken root since 2014, there’s a high chance you might have encountered junta agents during the past three years.

This includes soldiers or police knocking unannounced on your door very early in the morning, soldiers or police ringing you up and requesting you don’t say or do something at a public symposium or touch upon a particular topic if you are a reporter. If you are young enough – as in a university student or a fresh graduate – junta reps will try to befriend or threaten your parents as well, whichever way proves more effective. On social media, junta agents will follow you on Twitter or request you to add them on Facebook. They may visit the odd art gallery to pull something off the wall they don’t like or block the Charlie Chaplin silent film “The Great Dictator” on YouTube, as they did June 24, the anniversary of the revolt which ended absolute monarchy.

Big Brother is watching you, and where they are not physically present, warnings sometimes come from people just genuinely concerned about their children.

“Yesterday I was talking to my dad and he told me if anyone says anything bad about [the] junta, they are sure to go to jail or get sent away,” a 30-something, Western-educated daughter of a former diplomat informed me Wednesday on Facebook.

The junta’s objective in tailor-made repression is to atomise opponents and break their will, one by one – while avoiding a Tiananmen moment. Some 300 people have been tried in military courts for opposing the junta since the coup. At least 94 have been detained inside military camps.

One such dissident, 24-year-old Chonticha Jangrew, a former member of the New Democracy Movement, was diagnosed with PTSD after three years of resistance which included 13 days in prison for violating the ban on political gatherings along with her colleagues back in 2015. Soldiers also visited her parents’ home more than 50 times, during which time she moved five times to avoid their unannounced harassment. She’s currently taking a break upcountry from the stress of resisting the military junta.

Activist Rangsiman Rome, a high-profile anti-junta activist formerly of the New Democracy Movement and now part of the Democracy Restoration Group, was detained again overnight at a police station Sunday before he was scheduled to press the prime minister on the controversial Sino-Thai rail project.

Rangsiman, perhaps recognizing him and his comrades alone cannot prevail, urged people after his release Monday.

“We cannot expect the future to be better than this if we do not do anything today,” he said.

Many opponents of the military regime have already resigned to the fact that the junta will stay on for more than another year until it relents by allowing elections to take place or until it self-destructs.

Compared to those who are unhappy with the junta but decided to lie low, people such as Rangsiman and Chonticha are sharing an unfair amount of burden.

In a way, those still opposing the military junta three years on against all odds may find docile acceptance of military rule more painful and unacceptable than doing something to challenge the junta. They are paying a dear price for doing so because what their free spirits demand of them.

They chose to try to do whatever they could and that’s what counts. Idealism often clashes with the instinct for self-preservation. People balance it out differently.

Winning or losing, three years on, these people have demonstrated man’s unyielding spirit because to be free is to be human and not slaves. The junta may still be in power three years on, but it has failed to win or control these people’s hearts or break their unyielding spirit.