Police warn students of sensitive messages

Police warn students of sensitive messages

Young protesters free to express themselves but monarchy is off-limits

Students from the all-girls Suksanaree school in Thon Buri district of Bangkok hold placards during a rally on Friday morning. (Photo by Arnun Chonmahatrakool)
Students from the all-girls Suksanaree school in Thon Buri district of Bangkok hold placards during a rally on Friday morning. (Photo by Arnun Chonmahatrakool)

Police say students are free to exercise their right to assembly but have given them a stern warning against “touching the institution”.

The young demonstrators have to decide for themselves whether what they are doing is breaching the law, a deputy police spokesman said on Friday.

“There were examples in the past and we don’t want to take legal action [against them] later,” Pol Gen Krisana Pattanacharoen said without elaborating.

The protesters should also think about whether their actions are infringing on other people’s rights, he added. 

“As for which group is behind them, it was clear even before the [constitutional] court disbanded the Future Forward Party. People had been urged to join the Run Against Dictatorship activity,” he said, referring to parallel running events in several provinces at which participants called on Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to step down.

University and high-school students have been rallying on or near their campuses every day since Monday to demand change. Their demands include a rewrite of the constitution and the resignation of Gen Prayut to pave the way for a competent government and full democracy. 

The police spokesman’s warning came after Gen Prayut pointed out that some demonstrators were making other demands — some of which touched on the monarchy — in addition to pressing for more democracy.

During the no-confidence debate on Thursday, Gen Prayut told MPs he understood the good intentions of the demonstrators and said the government was trying to avoid any impact.

He then repeated the view expressed by many conservative elements of society that young people are at risk of being manipulated.

“Any action taken will be by law. In fact, we haven’t taken any action,” said the premier. “We’re concerned the students don’t really understand the situation. They might have been swayed or heard only one side of the story.

“I urged them to listen to the government and decide for themselves what to believe.

“My concern is … the law is sacred. It doesn’t matter whether it’s today or in the future [the law will catch up with them]. Several people have been prosecuted for their roles in [the events of] 2010 or 2014, regardless of colours.

“But what happened in 1973 and 1976 was different and we haven’t done anything to create a condition for that,” he said, referring to the red-shirt and yellow-shirt protests of the 2000s and the bloody crackdowns during the Cold War when fears of communism and threats to the palace ran high.

“Today, I’m more concerned about the future of the demonstrators. I’m not angry at them. After all, they have been ‘stimulated’.

“But I have to warn you here that insults to the monarchy are being used to drive the agenda. Are you okay with that? If you are, then I am too. If you think it’s right, then I don’t know what to do and will be forced to act by law.

“Don’t do it. I plead with you. I believe Parliament respects the institution. I’m confident it does. So don’t do it. If it comes to that, your worst fear may come true.”

On Friday, a group of students who held a rally in Chanthaburi province were fined 5,000 baht for breaking the public assembly law.

Some 800 students of Rambhai Barni Rajabhat University and their supporters had gathered in a field near the university after the management did not allow the students to use the campus.

The new public assembly law does not apply to assemblies on campuses but for demonstrations in other public spaces, organisers must inform police first so they can provide them with security and accommodate passers-by.

Police initially fined the group 20,000 baht but they bargained it down to 5,000 baht.

On Saturday evening, Kasetsart University students will hold what they are billing as the first no-confidence debate by students, to be joined by students from Ramkhamhaeng University.

Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul has asked students to think twice about staging any more events in order to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

“Big crowds are now very risky,” he said on Saturday. “If someone in a crowd was infected, we’d have to track down many people. The numbers of patients could be more than we can handle. I don’t want to block your political will, but please think about society.”

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