BANGKOK — Young protesters at a Harry Potter-themed rally on Monday employed the Wizarding World as a metaphor to speak out against the ruling status quo in Thailand, including the government and other institutions.
The rally opposite the Democracy Monument was named “Cast Spells to Expel You-Know-Who,” a reference to the series’ Dark Lord so terrifying and powerful that the wizarding community feared to utter his name. For the protesters, it’s a tongue-in-cheek tactic to discuss Thailand’s most sensitive issue.
“I cannot say it, for it is a cursed name,” Panapot, a 29-year-old clad in Slytherin robes, said when asked to identify He Who Must Not Be Named. “We would be witch hunted.”
Gryffindor protester Alisa, 26, said, “He is someone. But if we are all strong enough, he will not be strong anymore.”
Another protester – a Ravenclaw – also declined to guess the identity outloud.
“The horcrux has not been destroyed yet. The Deathly Hallows has not been found. So you cannot say it loudly in public,” said the man, who identified himself as Tera. “Maybe it’s in Germany.”
The event was held by a group called Mahanakorn for Democracy and students from Kasetsart University. Although the turnout was low – 100 at most – a full company of police officers was reportedly deployed around the protest site.
There was also a straw effigy of the fictional Dark Lord, Voldemort, along with a gilded portrait of him. The themed protest is the latest attempt by anti-government activists to adopt pop culture as their means of fighting the ruling regime.
Before the rally started, police announced through a loudspeaker asking for people to be careful due to the coronavirus, and that there could be possible instigators in the crowd.
The protesters and their leaders said they were unfazed.
“This You-Know-Who is at the crux of Thailand’s problems,” activist Arnon Nampha, wearing a Gryffindor scarf, said. “Thailand has never referred to them directly.”
Student-led protests have been sporadically held across the country since June 18 to call for the government’s immediate resignation, a new election, and a more democratic Constitution.
The protesters accuse PM Prayut Chan-o-cha of abusing the coronavirus emergency to tighten his rule and failing to assist those affected by the pandemic.
At previous rallies, the demonstrators and speakers also made subtle references to the Royal Family, but yesterday’s protest for the first time spoke openly of the needs to reform the monarchy and curb its influence in politics.
“Talking about this is not an act to topple the monarchy,” Arnon said onstage, to an applause. “But to allow the monarchy to exist in Thai society in the right way and legitimately under a democratic and a constitutional monarchy.”
A statement released by the two groups who organized the rally also demand reforms of laws that expand the power of the high institution and seek to silence a frank discussion about the issue.
Many protesters appear to share the same sentiment. Annie, who identified herself as a 19-year-old international school student, said she’s fed up with lese majeste, a harsh law used to punish any act deemed as insulting toward the monarchy.
“We are sick of this. This has been going on for generations,” Annie said. “Why can’t I talk about something in my own country? About something that’s so prevalent for every Thai around here?”
Discussing the monarchy in the public remains a taboo despite freewheeling conversations on social media in recent years. Criticism of the Royal Family is punishable by up to 15 years in jail.
Hardline royalist groups also staged a counter-rally last week and warned the student protesters not to touch the monarchy. Their leader declined to rule out violence if the monarchy continues to be “defamed.”
Correction: A previous version of this article said the protest took place on Aug. 4, 2020. In fact, it was on Aug. 3.