Thai youth must be 'free to protest'

Thai youth must be 'free to protest'

Thai youths must reclaim their freedom to demonstrate peacefully and freely as they are the country's future, urged human rights activists and academics at a conference on Thai student protests.

Chanathip Tatiyakarunwong, a researcher at Amnesty International's South East Asia and Pacific office, demanded the government cease using strategic litigation against protesters and that public demonstrations be recognised as a fundamental right.

"In Thailand's social movement, we have seen significant participation of youth under 18; however, officials regard their voices as unimportant due to their age, which is viewed as inexperience," he said.

Youth's participation in politics is hampered not only by police or official threats at their homes or school but also by close individuals such as parents and teachers; some young protesters have had their family ties and financial support severed by their parents, said Mr Chanathip.

He added that teachers and their schools have prevented them from protesting in many cases. In extreme cases, teachers even send private information about their students to the police.

Mr Chanathip was speaking at an Amnesty International seminar on Thai student protests over the last two years, which focused on obstacles to freedom of peaceful protest, as well as the role of the government in this regard.

The sharp rise in Thai youth involvement in demonstrations spurred the study. "Amnesty International is not only concerned about democracy protests but also other areas such as youth partaking in indigenous or ethnic group protests as well," he added.

Thailand belongs to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which protects individuals' rights to participate in peaceful public demonstrations.

Despite that, however, this freedom is currently restricted for many Thai students, he said. Many times, officials handle the situation with disregard for these rights and instead use extreme measures against protesters.

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