How the Thai Government Is Dealing With Students Who Criticize Them

Suranand Vejjajiva has written (yet another) interesting article. This one is titled Teaching our kids about democracy and dictatorship. It talks about the case of 5 university students from Chiang Mai.

All the students did was write up cardboard signs which stated: “I saw dead people at Ratchaprasong”, “Prime Minister, don’t revoke the Emergency Decree because the government will collapse”, “The Emergency Decree must be maintained to conceal the truth”.

They were also wearing surgical masks on which were written the words “Reconciliation” and “No love for a dictatorial government”. They walked around the local market and all the way up to the provincial governor’s office before they were arrested.

Police said they were monitoring the students’ Facebook folios which contained messages considered to be of a similar offence. The high school student’s notebook computer was confiscated.

This was obviously enough for the police to serve arrest warrants, because they were accused of breaking the emergency decree:

the students were charged with “gathering in public with more than 5 people, stirring public unrest, presenting and distributing news through print and other messages that could cause fear among the population, or distorting news and information that leads to misunderstanding about the emergency situation which affects national security”.

If five high school students carrying cardboard signs are a threat to national security, then the situation must be really bad.

the mother of the high school student and another local businessman who was seen talking to the protesters were also called in to report to police. The high school student was also asked to join a psychological treatment programme but the mother refused and told reporters there was nothing wrong with her child

Trying to send high-school students with different political opinions into a mental facility is not something that is exactly typical of a democratic regime.

Suranand also touches on the abuse of the emergency decree by the government:

The emergency powers are designed to ensure peace and stability in the face of violent acts from rioting to terrorism. It is designed as a tool to protect democracy and freedom, not to be abused and used to infringe upon citizens’ basic rights and liberties.

In disregard for democratic principles, this government adopted the emergency decree as a rule book in political suppression of the opposition. The hardline attitude is signalled through interviews and press conferences to the bureaucracy and government political sympathisers which in turn implement it as policy and/or start a witch-hunt, online and off.

At the same time, the government has talked a lot about reconciliation, and if you listen to Abhisit speaking, he sounds like a very reasonable man – it’s just the dichotomy between his words and his (and the current governments) actions, that is frustrating.

If people are not allowed to express themselves other than the official version of the truth, there is no use in calling for public participation – it will only enforce the view that the whole process is just a charade played by the government.One of the signs held up at Chulalongkorn University carried JFK’s warning: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

Let’s hope that it will not come this far, because nobody wins, and everybody loses when there are violent revolutions. If you look at countries where there have been violent changes of powers – even if the previous powers were obviously “evil” (even more so than the current Thai government) , countries often take a turn for the worse after “good” violent revolutionaries take over. Violence is not an acceptable means of political progress, but it is at least partly the current governments responsibility to also prevent the eruption of violence – not just through strong-handed force, but also by employing (truthfully) reconciliatory strategies.

Specially students, who have been very apolitical in recent years – the harder they try to muffle dissent among students, the higher the likelihood that they are just pouring gasoline into the fire and isolated radicalization may occur.