Govt Urges Student Activists To Join Forum Instead of Protesting

Eight student activists distributing leaflets that bear excerpt from an anti-authoritarian poem, 24 November 2014 (photo by LLTD Facebook page)

BANGKOK – Thai government officials have asked student activists to participate in the junta-backed public forum, instead of protesting against the military regime.

Thawilwadi Burikul, chairperson of the Public Participation Sub-Committee of the junta-appointed Constitution Drafting Committee, said the government will convene a public forum to listen to opinions from "student representatives" from across the country between 11-12 December at a convention centre in Bangkok.

Over 200 student representatives will be invited to join the forum, Thawilwadi said yesterday. 

"We want to let the students to express their opinions about the future of Thailand," Thawilwadi told reporters.

Sutthasri Wongsaman, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Education, said she hopes that student activists who have been organising protests against the military junta would join the forum and use it to publicise their demands. 

She promised that the students will be able to voice their opinions "independently" at the forum in December, and urged the activists to refrain from any further protests. 

"We are not forcing anyone, but I'd like to tell the students who are campaigning and expressing their political opinions that they should consider what is appropriate in their expression. For example, doing the three-finger salute in front of the Prime Minister. That's something they should not do," the official said.

"Some of the students are extremists. They claim the principles of democracy," Sutthasri continued, "But I want the students to think about the interest of the nation. The political situation in post-coup period may not be the best time for the country. But I don't want them to linger on the process. They should think about the objectives [of the coup], and the noble goals for the society."

The past week was marked by a surge in flash mobs and guerrilla protests organised by student activists who opposed the 22 May 2014 military coup. In one such stunt, five student activists from Khon Kaen University interrupted a speech by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha in Khon Kaen province on 19 November, and flashed the forbidden "three-finger salute", an anti-coup gesture inspired by "The Hunger Games" movies. 

Yesterday, more than 30 soldiers were dispatched to Chiang Mai University in northern Thailand to block an anti-coup "lunch talk" by student activists there. 

After seizing power from the elected government on 22 May 2014, the junta, formally known as the National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO), has banned any public protest against its rule, censored the media, and tried some of those who violate the protest ban in military court, where appeals are not permitted. 

The authorities have arrested numerous students who were involved in these protests, but all of them were released later without formal charges.

The recent anti-coup campaign against the military junta have largely been coordinated by a loose network of different student groups, such as the Thai Student Centre for Democracy (TSCD), the League of Liberal Thammasat for Democracy (LLTD), Dao Din Group,  and Chulalongkorn Community for the People (CCP). 

However, a majority of students in Thailand have not participated in the anti-coup movement. 

Read more: Universities Told To Curb Students' Anti-Coup Protests


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