BANGKOK — In a rare departure from the junta's zero tolerance on political protests, police did not arrest any of the fourteen pro-democracy activists who marched along a historic road in Bangkok today.
Seven of the activists are members of a Bangkok-based student network, while the others belong to Dao Din, a social justice group founded by law students in the northeastern province of Khon Kaen.
All fourteen are facing charges of violating the junta's ban on protests for staging demonstrations to commemorate the first anniversary of the 2014 coup last month, and have since defied police's orders to surrender for formal prosecution.
The group announced the formation of a new group called Neo-Democracy Movement this morning, which they said will campaign for democracy, public participation in politics, human rights, justice, and non-violence. The activists made the announcement at a press conference outside the home of the prominent historian Sulak Sivaraksa, whose house also doubles as a bookshop and hostel.
Speaking at the press conference this morning, Rangsiman Rome, one of the activists from Bangkok's Thammasat University, said his group is ready to accept any punishment from authorities for their struggle against the junta.
"If we are to be punished by the NCPO, we are willing to accept it," Rangsiman said, referring to junta's official, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). "But our acceptance does not mean we recognize that our actions are illegal. It is because we have only two hands, and we are few in number, while the NCPO has guns and numerous personnel at its disposal, and they use these forces barbarically to violate human rights."
He continued, "I insist that even if we are to be detained, and our human rights are stripped, we will only stay in prison physically while our hearts will still [hold on to] democracy, and hunger for freedom."
The activists then set out for Ratchadamnoen Avenue on a bus, with dozens of plain-clothed and uniformed security officers trailing them. After arriving on the avenue, the activists marched to various landmarks in Thai political history, including the monument to the 1973 Student Uprising, the memorial to the 1976 massacre of student activists at Thammasat University, and Democracy Monument, the focal point of numerous political protests over the past decade.
The activists before they set out on their pro-democracy march in Bangkok, 25 June 2015.
After wrapping Democracy Monument with black banners to symbolize the junta’s suspension of democracy, and delivering speeches to a crowd of supporters, the activists declared the end of the demonstration at around 7 pm and dispersed peacefully from the scene. Rangsiman said his group "will be back" for further campaigns against the junta.
No arrests were made throughout the day, marking a notable exception to security officers' standard practice of swiftly arresting anti-coup dissidents. Public protests and political activities of any kind remain banned by the NCPO, which has sent some violators to stand trial in martial courts.
Adul Kiewboriboon, a chairperson of the Relatives of May 1992 Martyrs and a member of the junta’s reform center, observed the protest today. Adul told Matichon he believes the activists' march was a "colorful" event and not provocative. He also said the junta's reform forum may invite the fourteen activists for discussion in the future, Mathichon reported.
Asked what he thought of the security officers who had been stalking the activists for hours, Adul replied, "It's a security measure. They weren't only there to follow the activists, but also provide protection to the activists."