Student Protests Challenge Institutions Beyond Gov’t

Protesters flash the anti-military
Protesters flash the anti-military "Three-Finger Salute" on July 18, 2020.

BANGKOK — A police spokesman on Monday declined to comment whether police will press any charges against those who displayed messages critical of the monarchy during anti-government rallies over the weekend.

Col. Kissana Phathanacharoen said he cannot give an opinion on the matter since he feared that it could be “sensationalized” by the media. Instead, he referred to his quotes earlier warning the protesters to be mindful of breaking the laws.

“Those who wish to protest should study relevant laws since they may face legal actions in the future,” Col. Kissana said during Monday’s news conference. “This doesn’t mean that we are eager to press charges, but we have to take action on what’s illegal.”

According to police, no one has been arrested so far over the anti-government rallies in Bangkok and Chiang Mai on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.


Although protest leaders said the rallies were aimed at the government, placards and signs held by many of the demonstrators went far beyond that goal.

Some call for abolition of the royal defamation laws, which carry a maximum penalty of 15 years in jail, while others demand explanation over disappearances of monarchy critics.

Some went as far as making strongly worded statements regarding the monarchy. Khaosod English cannot republish those remarks due to strict interpretation of the lese majeste laws.

Tattep Ruangprapaikitseree, one of the leaders who led Saturday’s protest in Bangkok, said he respects the protesters’ freedom of speech, but he is concerned that his supporters could face repercussions for their mentions of the monarchy.

“We’re worried about their safety,” Tattep said. “We’re not in the position to decide which message is appropriate. The protesters have to bear the consequences, but this shows that society still needs a space to express their opinion on sensitive issues.”

Public discussion of the monarchy remains a taboo in Thailand, where any remark or action deemed negative toward the Royal Family can result in lengthy jail time.

Many signs held by protesters over the weekend declare that “losing faith is not a crime,” a reference to a T-shirt worn by a man who was questioned and detained by the police in June.

Other banners express solidarity with activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit who was kidnapped in Phnom Penh last month.


In one humorous gesture, some protesters also prostrated to a framed photo of self-exiled monarchy critic Pavin Chachavalpongpun, who is seen holding a dog.

Related stories:

Police Warn Students Not to Touch the Monarchy