Yellow shirts, royal banner not a licence to kill

Yellow shirts, royal banner not a licence to kill

Despite the ongoing political frenzy, one thing must be clear. A yellow shirt and the royalist banner are not a licence to kill.

The blockage and harassment of a car which was believed to be carrying Progressive Movement co-founder, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, in Nakhon Si Thammarat last week was a turning point in the latest round of the political conflict.

This should be a time for everyone to take a moment and reflect on what is really going on, and where we are heading as a nation.

The incident showed how extreme hate, fanned by bigotry and propaganda -- many launched by state-related personnel and mechanisms -- will ultimately lead us down a treacherous slope towards violence.

Last Wednesday's incident occurred after a group of yellow-clad royalists gathered to protest against Mr Thanathorn near a hotel where he was staying in Muang district.

The Progressive Movement leader was there to help the group's candidates campaign ahead of the provincial administrative organisation election, set for Dec 20.

With sense of entitlement best known to themselves, the royalists demanded that all vehicles leaving the hotel lower their windows, supposedly to check if Mr Thanathorn was inside. After a white car with tinted windows refused to do so, the mob quickly surrounded the vehicle and tried to block its passage.

Holding portraits of His Majesty the King and carrying yellow flags with the monarch's insignia, the royalist mob heckled the driver.

As it turned out, there were five women inside the vehicle and they were simply too scared to roll down the windows. They said they will take legal action against those who surrounded them and obstructed their way.

What is even more disturbing was the rationale the mob used to justify their actions.

A member of the mob reportedly said they blocked all cars from leaving the hotel because Mr Thanathorn refused to talk to them about why the monarchy should be reformed. They "got angry", he said.

Under this rationale, it would seem that if anyone who claims to be a royalist who is out there to protect the crown, they would be entitled to do anything against those who do not support their cause.

This isn't to say that Mr Thanathorn refused to reason with the royalists -- he had asked them to send their representatives for a discussion, but they refused.

Harassment. Bullying. Denying people freedom of movement. Under this rationale, it seems these violations of basic rights are permissible if one is acting in the name of the King. Under this rationale, people's constitutional rights are subservient to the professed love of the monarchy.

Under this rationale, anyone whom the royalists doubt are not as "loyal" to the throne as they are, can be heckled or denied the right to travel.

How long before those who disagree with the royalists are subjected to witch-hunts and abuses? How long before the hatred and dehumanisation campaigns that are going on against anti-government protesters and monarchy reform supporters churn out deadly notions like "It's not a sin to kill communists", which led to the massacre of left-leaning students in the past?

What is probably most appalling is how royalist supporters seem to condone, if not, encourage, the harassment.

A government MP recently asked why Mr Thanathorn didn't avoid the route if he knew the protesters were there.

Her casualness with the facts is astonishing. Mr Thanathorn was at the hotel to meet his group's candidates. The protesters went there to demand to meet him. When they didn't get their way, they mobbed the route and they blocked every vehicle leaving. And the car they blocked wasn't even his!

The distorted opinion can't be interpreted as anything but encouragement for mob rule.

Anucha Nakhasai, Prime Minister's Office Minister and secretary-general of the Palang Pracharath Party, also dismissed the incident as "normal". He said his party has no policy of inciting rifts in society but doesn't take issue with the incident.

Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha who earlier condemned an anti-government protester headbutting a foreigner has kept mum about what happened to Mr Thanathorn and the owner of the white car who fell prey to the overzealous royalists.

Amid the ever sharper polarisation, his silence will be seen as tacit approval. That is the last thing that the royalists, government and the establishment preaching the need for compromise and reconciliation want.

History has shown us what hideous crimes can occur when people at the top choose to turn a blind eye to hate campaigns against those who think differently.

Draw the line now, or risk a "righteous" mess.

Atiya Achakulwisut is a Bangkok Post columnist.

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