On 22 May, the anniversary of the 2014 military coup, a pickup truck was seen on Bangkok streets. A banner hung from the side:
“6 ปีแล้วนะ ไอสัส” (“It’s been 6 years, you animal”).
Saying “you animal” in English isn’t a big deal. It can even be complimentary. But in Thai, it’s derogatory and an insult.
Also on the banner was General Prayut Chan-o-cha’s face.
The truck paraded from Victory Monument, circled around Ratchaprasong, went through Chulalongkorn University, then through Hua Lamphong and Chinatown, coming to a stop at the Democracy Monument.
The Student Union of Thailand is the group behind this. Founded in 2018, the group’s purpose is to demand for democracy, support human rights and stand against dictatorship.
The chairperson of the union is 22-year-old Thammasat University student, Jutatip Sirikhan.
What happened then?
We planned to hang the banner at the Democracy Monument. But there were some police officers there who tried to stop us. They threatened us with, “you could be charged,” but we called our lawyer and checked with him. The lawyer confirmed we could hang the banner.
They called up more police officers, over ten of them arrived, but we managed to hang the banner anyway. It was supposed to only be political symbolism. We took the banner down after 10 minutes.
The police also asked for our IDs, which we refused to give over. They told us to come and have a talk at McDonald’s at Ratchadamnoen. We split into two groups and sent two people to talk to them. There were only five of us total, and we were cautious about the pandemic.
[Emergency decree prohibits gathering of more than five people.]
The police took our two friends to the station and detained them from about 3 to 7pm.
The police couldn’t charge us with anything. What we did wasn’t a protest. It was just political symbolism. So they charged us with a traffic violation, because we caused a traffic jam.
The three of us that did not meet with the police went to the parliament house. Prayut had ordered extra securities there. We got there and held up the banner. A group of plain-cloth police officers approached us and asked questions. We didn’t answer. They shoved us around and harassed us for about 10 minutes.
Still, we managed to hang the banner on the fence for about 10 minutes.
Then we left, but they were following us for a bit.
Were you scared?
Yes, a bit, but we needed to speak out and we believe in our stance. Of all the activities I’ve done, this particular one the police was the least harsh on us. But still, it was an infringement of our rights.
We were being careful by trying to keep ourselves in public. The officers weren’t hurting us or anything.
Do you think bigger groups of people would come out more?
On ground, no. But online, you will see more movements. During the pandemic, people are changing the protest platform to be online.
We organized #MobFromHome on social media. You can organize your own protest at home. It would reduce the chance of getting infected, and still you can make noises against the government.
What’s more important at the moment, safety from COVID or democracy?
#MobFromHome is our “new normal”. But this type of protest is limited. Once the pandemic situation is done, we will likely organize a “mob on ground”.