Thailand’s opposition: who want to “break through heaven”

Status: December 30, 2021 4:51 p.m.

Thailand’s opposition risks a lot: Those who criticize the regime and the king quickly disappear into prison for years. But the activists do not want to be intimidated. Your resistance is long-term.

By Lena Bodewein, ARD-Studio Southeast Asia

The new year begins and the Thalufah democracy activists have big plans. They are sitting in a courtyard in central Bangkok planning what they want to do all year round. They talk about large demonstrations in the north, northeast, south and east of the country and in the capital. “It will be big,” one of them is convinced.

A dozen young people live in this house, women, men, including a seven-year-old child. An 18-year-old is wearing an electronic ankle cuff. Some smoke while they are sitting under a pavilion that they have set up because in the house across from a school, the police are sitting and watching everything they do.

Then food is brought out, savory meatballs and filled dates are on the table in colorful bowls. They take turns cooking in the democracy flat share. A huge 112 is painted on the wall, surrounded by stick figures sitting behind bars.

When the king is criticized

112, that is the article in the Thai penal code that revolves around “read majeste”, lese majesty. And with the help of this article, the government is putting people behind bars who they don’t like. Little things can easily be jailed for 15 years per act.

And what falls under lese majesty is interpreted very harshly. The student Pai Dao Din shared a portrait of the future king on Facebook in December 2016, which the BBC had created in Thai. It did not quite paint the jubilant picture that is otherwise only permissible. Pai was charged and became the first person to be sentenced to several years in prison for insulting Maha Vajiralongkorn.

It was through him that Dino became an activist. He is a law student and says he wondered how something like this was possible under the laws of the country? “There must be something wrong,” he says.

A protest march with consequences

Dino sits in front of the huge 112 on the wall and tells about the tour he took with Pai. Because when he had to appear in court for insulting majesty, he didn’t just go there. He and others set off on a hike through Thailand, around 250 kilometers from his home to Bangkok.

That was the march on which the name “Thalufah” arose, the name of their organization. “That means: breaking through the sky, because it is possible to break through everything,” reports Dino. When the participants in the march reached Bangkok and Pai had to appear in court, the remaining participants decided to pitch next to the government building next to the government building. They called it “Thalufah Village” and stayed there for 15 days until the police broke up the camp. This is how “Thalufah” began.

It’s all about leadership

Prayuth Chan O-Cha is pictured on a wall in the courtyard, grinning and wearing devil horns. “Failed State” is next to it, failed state, and: “If you change it, the state is safe”. The activists do not only see the prime minister as a problem. The king owns everything in the country, says Dino angrily, and that is a problem – because the population is suffering from projects that they can hardly do anything about.

In the “Thalufah” quarter there are no mocking images of the king, but he is omnipresent – in the ideas of protest and in the anger it arouses. Sam, for example, a friend of Pai’s, says that they are so angry with the king because he combines everything: military power, money, arbitrariness. He had the constitution changed in such a way that he determined part of the military that he determined the entire wealth of the crown. And everyone would be jailed in his name.

Resistant chili paste

There are pictures of those in prison on the walls. Pai, Penguin, and others of their spokesmen. 18-year-old Boon is bailed but has to wear ankle cuffs. A dozen activists live in this house, and another 30. To finance their actions, they cook huge amounts of chili paste, which they sell in small pots. Or sets for planting flowers – guerrilla gardening, so to speak.

Peace, Sam’s seven-year-old daughter, does not come to the protests. But she knows why they are all here: “To get rid of Prayut!”

Young people are aware that this can take a while. You plan for the long term, think in two, three, five years. At the latest when little Peace is big, she should experience real democracy.

Captured or spied on, the protests in Thailand continue

Lena Bodewein, ARD Singapore, December 30th, 2021 10:17 am

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