BANGKOK — A leading student activist has denounced Thammasat University's effort to "erase" the student massacre that took place on its campus 38 years ago.
Rangsiman Rome, a core leader of the League of Liberal Thammasat for Democracy (LLTD), told Khaosod English that university administrators asked his organisation not to commemorate the anniversary of the 1976 massacre today.
"They have been telling us not to do anything political inside the university," Rangsiman said. He said his group initially wanted to commemorate the incident at Thammasat's Rangsit Campus, but eventually decided against it. However, they are planning to organise a "long-term political exhibition" at the campus in November, he said.
The 1976 massacre was carried out by heavily-armed police officers and hooligans who stormed Thammasat University's Tha Prachan campus to disperse thousands of leftist students who were holding a peaceful rally there. Official records says 46 people were killed in the crackdown, but historians believe the death toll is much higher.
Thammasat administrators have come under fire from pro-democracy activists for their decision to restrict this year's commemoration of the 1976 massacre. Under conditions set by the university, only a religious service and ceremonial speeches were allowed, while the usual academic panel on the historical context of the massacre was forbidden.
The order was presumably an effort to respect the military junta’s ban on all political activities, which has been enforced since the 22 May coup.
Rangsiman said Thammasat's refusal to commemorate the 1976 massacre is paradoxical, as the administrators like to encourage students to be proud of the university’s activist history.
"During orientation, October 6 was brought up to instill pride among the students, but when the anniversary comes, which is the real test of whether students are allowed to speak their mind, the university ordered us not to do anything," said Rangsiman, who is a fourth year law student .
Rangsiman also expressed concern that university administrators may be attempting to "erase" the controversial history under pressure from the junta.
"It's possible that they have received orders from the military, for whom Somkid is serving," Rangsiman said, referring to Thammasat rector Somkid Lertpaithoon, who accepted a post in the junta's National Legislative Assembly (NLA).
In defiance of the ban on "politics," however, mysterious signs were posted in a lecture building on Thammasat's Rangsit Campus today criticising the administrators' alleged attempt to make students "forget" the 1976 massacre. Rangsiman said his group was not responsible for the signs.
Earlier this afternoon, another student group, the Thai Student Centre for Democracy (TSCD), organised a mini-concert in commemoration of the massacre at Thammasat Tha Prachan's campus. TSCD activists said that they felt music was the best way to tell the story of October 6 in the current atmosphere.
Prominent author Sulak Sivarak also attended the event and gave a speech blasting Thammasat University administrators for turning themselves into "servants of the dictators."
"I urge the people to help bring back democracy," said Sulak, who identifies as an advocate for reforming the Thai monarchy."Don't care about the [junta's promise of] returning of happiness to the people. It's all a sham."