BANGKOK — A number of Thai students studying abroad are voicing their condemnation of Friday’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters and urging the government to consider reform demands made by the movement.
Samaggi Samagom, the prestigious Thai Students’ Association in the United Kingdom, issued a statement Saturday condemning the “disproportionate and procedurally illegitimate violence to dissolve the protests,” while the newly-founded Coalition of Concerned Students Abroad made a similar call.
Samaggi Samagom is an elite association founded in 1901 and currently under royal patronage. It consists of both current and former Thai students who studied in the United Kingdom.
The community of Oxbridge Thai students and alumni also issued a statement Monday condemning the severe state of emergency and Friday crackdown.
“The Government’s decision to declare emergency a “severe” State of Emergency was entirely unnecessary,” part of the manifesto signed by 102 alumni and students said.
“Using water cannons mixed with paint and chemicals to mark protesters for further arrest by state agents was disproportionately aggressive, and in violation of the international standards set out by the United Nations.”
The list does not include a signature by former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, an Oxford alumnus.
A statement signed by 102 Thai Oxbridge alumni and students as well as a statement from the Oxford Thai Society.
The Oxford Thai Society also released a statement that stopped short of denouncing the violence on Friday in particular, but maintained that principles of non-violence and promotion of human rights should be respected.
“As long as citizens assemble peacefully per their right, all forms of violence against such individuals must be condemned, as protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” it said.
But the letter with the largest number of signatories is by the newcomer Coalition of Concerned Students Abroad, founded Sunday by two students from Georgetown University in the United States.
The Coalition’s statement took the more principled approach: its open letter to Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha signed by 868 students studying in 19 countries condemns the Severe State of Emergency, arrests of protesters and journalists, and asks the government to consider monarchy reforms demanded by the demonstrators.
“We urge the Royal Thai Government to respect democratic and parliamentary processes as spaces for public discussion, including those on the proposed reforms to the monarchy,” the statement reads.
“Freedom shall no longer be hunted, reason shall no longer be considered rebellion, and the slavery of fear shall no longer make us afraid to think.”
The Coalition is an initiative by Arin Chinnasathian, 23, and Haripoom Prasutchai, 21.
“What sets our statement apart is that the cosigners think the government should respect the democratic space for discussion, including the proposal to reform the monarchy, regardless of whether we agree with them or not,” the pair said in a statement to Khaosod English.
Arin and Haripoom began collecting names only since Thursday, though the effort spread like a wildfire among Thai students abroad via word of mouth. In an online interview, the pair said all of the co-signers’ identities can be verified. Their Coalition was founded Sunday.
“As far as I’m aware, this brought many Thai student clubs to discuss their political stance. This is something rarely, if ever, done before,” Arin said.
Although the reception was more positive than expected, some Thai student groups have refrained from signing the statement.
“Some groups want to claim neutrality, some are divided on political stance, which prevents clubs from taking an official stance,” Arin said. “But we will continue to do our duty if associations don’t, since we care about human and civil rights in Thailand.”
Haripoom also said, “There’s a refusal to be associated with politics in general. If you posted stuff on social media, then people could misconstrue you as political, and being political was a toxic label.”