Lawyer Group Counts 47 Cases of School Protester Harassment

Students raise the anti-government three-finger salute to a reporter on Aug. 19, 2020, at Yupparaj Wittayalai School in Chiang Mai.

BANGKOK — A civil rights advocate group on Tuesday said they are troubled by reports that some student protesters have been intimidated or harassed by those who disagree with their views.

Montana Duangprapa, an information officer at Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, said she counted 47 cases of harassment from school teachers, administrators, and even parents. Education officials also came under fire for their heavy handed response to the anti-government protests in schools across the country.

“80 percent of the harassment comes from school personnel,” Montana said, adding that her organization has set up a hotline to receive complaints and offer legal advice for the students.

She was speaking at a panel discussion held at Mahidol University in an effort to find a peaceful solution to the growing wave of anti-government protests, which were first organized by university students and now have spread to high schools.

At some schools, students have been confronted by teachers upset at the symbolic protests, in which students raise up their hands in a three-finger salute, hold up blank papers, and wear white ribbons.

“Even students wearing white ribbons have been threatened,” Bencharat Sae Chua, a lecturer at Mahidol University’s Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, said. “In the past, students were under certain societal structures, but now that they have begun questioning such structure and beliefs, the confrontation force is severe.”

Another panelist was Move Forward Party MP Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn, who also serves as the spokesman for the House Committee on Education.

At the panel, Wiroj said he will ask the education and higher education ministers to come up with a clear guideline on teachers’ action that constitutes a violation of student rights to freedom of expression.

“Schools are a microcosm of the larger society,” the lawmaker said. “To see a school teacher drag a student who flashed three-fingers salute away only to see other students flashing three fingers in response is a microcosm of a failed state.”

But Nattameth Dulkanit, an education advisor for the Ministry of Education, said critics must understand that some teachers feel threatened because their long-held political beliefs have been challenged by the students.

He agrees that schools should provide a “safe space” for students to express their political views, however.

Nattameth also said some may disagree with school students wearing their uniforms in the protests, since they may misrepresent their schools.

“When students have the uniforms on, do they represent the institution? We need to debate whether to allow them to wear uniforms to express themselves or not,” the advisor said. “School uniforms are a representation of the institution and its history.”

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