Running events have gained popularity in Thailand recently and the authorities have always supported them. However, once they started carrying a political message against the prime minister, the authorities have done what they should not do. Over the past week, reports have emerged about alleged intimidation by the police and other officials against organisers of the Run Against Dictatorship events, also known as Wing Lai Lung, to be held this Sunday in Bangkok and various provinces.
This development is highly disturbing since it reveals that the same form of state suppression of dissidents as used by the former military regime -- which has been prevalent since the 2014 coup -- is here to stay.
Since student activists announced last month their plan to organise the Wing Lai Lung event in Bangkok, people in other provinces have also embraced the idea and come up with their own mini-versions of the event in their localities. Lung or uncle is a clear reference to Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha and their message is that they have had enough of him running the country and want to get rid of him. It appears to be just another rebuke against the premier and the planned activities appear harmless. In fact, the events can be likened to a symbolic civil movement which should be facilitated by the police.
Despite the government's stance that it has no problem with the activists, local authorities -- the police, local administration, and universities -- seem not to have heard the message. According to civic group iLaw, there have been reports that organisers in Ubon Ratchathani, Maha Sarakham, Buri Ram, Phrae, Phayao and Nakhon Si Thammarat have been visited and questioned by plainclothes officers several times either at their homes or at their workplace in the past week.
Some were told to cancel the events because they threaten national security or that they violate the Public Assembly Act. Meanwhile, others were called to police stations where they were held for hours.
In Maha Sarakham and Nakhon Si Thammarat, the organisers' requests to use state-run university campuses for the run were rejected, which forced them to seek alternative venues.
On Monday, the organiser in Buri Ram said he had decided to withdraw his role in the event after being threatened by the authorities.
Earlier, police in Ubon Ratchathani also banned the event, however, they later changed their mind and gave their approval with several conditions attached such as the event must not carry anti-government messages or use the term lung in the event's logo.
The reactions by the authorities and intimidation tactics are not just wrong but also absurd. Yet, it no laughing matter either. As the country has returned to democracy, no citizen should face such intimidation.
It is hardly a coincidence that the same form of intimidation has simultaneously occurred in many provinces in different regions. The government must investigate why this happened and if any of its members really had no role in it, then it must instruct officials nationwide to never threaten people who just want to express their political views through protest.
Pathumwan police station's decision to file charges against Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and another party member for organizing a flash mob last month is also troubling as it sends a wrong message that organisers of other peaceful political rallies could face similar consequences. These runs to oust the lung could just be the start of a slow burn of dissatisfaction with and anger against the PM. The government and authorities must tolerate them.