NEW YORK — Anti-Prayuth protesters in New York on Tuesday were neither Thai nor knew where Thailand is located.
Deputy Prime Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan said Wednesday he has received reports of an anti-government rally in front of the hotel in New York where Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is staying during his visit to the UN General Assembly. He believes someone has masterminded the gathering, but refused to name who.
“We all know who’s doing what. There must be a wire-puller,” Prawit said. “We have the intel on anti-government movements, but we haven’t found any connections with familiar faces.”
Nearly 30 people gathered in front of Plaza Athénée Hotel in New York’s affluent Upper East Side on Tuesday morning. The protesters did not appear to be shouting any slogans.
The protesters identified themselves to a reporter as Mexicans and Peruvians, Matichon reported. They wore shirts saying “Thai Democracy Now” and held hand-written placards demanding free and fair elections in English.
When asked about their motives, the protesters replied they are calling for democracy in Thailand, but admitted they do not know where the country is, according to Matichon. The protesters also missed their target as Prayuth had already left the hotel about two hours before they arrived.
In a video posted by Facebook user Chutima Liamthong, who followed the rally to the grounds in front of the UN headquarters, one of the protesters says “Everybody is Thailand today!” but refuses to speak further when challenged to speak Thai.
One protester in the video identifies herself as Peruvian, while another says she’s from the Philippines.
This is not the first time the mysterious group “Thai Democracy Now” has made the news.
On Friday, ex-Pheu Thai MP Sunai Chulpongsatorn, who is now living in exile after being accused of insulting the monarchy, posted a photo on his Facebook of a billboard reading “United Nations General Assembly: Don’t Let Democracy Die in Thailand.” He claimed the billboard is located near the UN headquarters.
The billboard contains a URL to thaidemocracynow.org, which leads to an English language website. The group claims to belong to the self-styled Committee for Human Rights and Democracy in Thailand, which is “a non-profit, international committee comprising of political and human rights leaders, Thai expats living on five continents.”
According to their mission statement, the group aims to “restore human rights and democracy in Thailand,” citing the crackdown on freedom of expression during the junta’s rule and the sham election which landed Prayuth his second term in office.
The website also includes a petition to the UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres and a donation form in US dollars. A domain registration database reveals that the address belongs to an Arizona proxy company, effectively masking the real owners.
No one has stepped forward to claim leadership of the group. Pro-democracy campaigners in Thailand say they don’t know who’s behind it – which struck the close-knit activist community as odd.
“It seems strange. Those who were recruited wore shirts with the logo of the pro-democracy group that erected the billboard near the UN headquarters. Neither reporters nor activists know who’s behind it,” pro-democracy activist Nuttaa “Bow” Mahattana said on Facebook.
However, there were Thai protesters as well. During his speech at the Asia Society panel on Wednesday, a handful of protesters led by student activist Nachacha Kongudom interrupted by standing up and attempting to raise placards against Prayuth before they were being escorted out of the venue.
“Hello, Thank you. Thank you very much” Prayuth said while Nachacha was being pulled out.