By PRAVIT ROJANAPHRUK
ANY REGIME that arrests students who gather peacefully to call for liberty and democracy must be terribly insecure.
The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) put 14 university students, representing the Neo Democracy Movement (NDM), behind the bars on Friday. These youngsters could each face up to seven years in prison for allegedly violating the NCPO’s ban on gatherings of five or more people as well as apparently committing sedition.
Three days after the students were arrested, dozens of people gathered to show their support for Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha, who is also NCPO chief, offering him flowers and urging him to stay in power for another three years.
Clearly, the NCPO ban on gatherings does not apply to those who openly show their satisfaction with military rule.
Now the fight is not just against military dictatorship, but also against hypocrisy and twisted logic.
Consider the following:
The very people who tear up the constitution – which is the highest law in the land – and stage a coup are the very people who call on others to obey the law;
Then these people claim they are working towards democracy, yet they increasingly limit and criminalise any dissent against them and their regime;
Then its supporters speak up about students not being stopped from challenging and opposing military rule, yet there’s not a word about the decision to arrest and detain peaceful student protesters.
The NCPO is now facing an interesting predicament – it claims it was set up to bring back democracy, yet it has so far failed and proved that its security rests not on legitimacy, but through the illusion of public consent gained by suppressing opposing views.
Some have indeed expressed support for the students, held night vigils and have been demanding that the 14 be released immediately and unconditionally. Also, it is speculated that a large number of people hate the Shinawatra siblings far too much to take a stand against Prayut’s regime.
Many people have said they believe the students have been manipulated. However, while talking to several of the detainees, I realised that they are merely idealistic youths who have yet to get jaded by the cruel realities of life and years of repeated disappointments where democracy is concerned. Most of them are unmarried and don’t have children or mortgages. They dream of a just, democratic, equitable Thailand and feel they have the right to fight for this dream, come what may.
The 14, comprised of seven Dao Din law students from Khon Kaen University and seven Bangkok-based students from different universities, believe that time has come to take a stand.
They are aware that as students, they have more social capital and will get sympathy from the general public.
Also, they have realised that |sometimes the best way to fight for freedom is to lose their own.
It’s still unclear at this stage whether the detention of these students would lead to the demise of Prayut’s administration.
After all, what can the court do when the detainees refuse to seek bail? Won’t their continued incarceration serve as a magnet for more dissent?
People say these 14 have been arrested because – as the Thai saying goes – “you slaughter a chicken to set an example for the monkeys”.
However, one can’t help wonder if the powers-that-be have forgotten that we’ve evolved into humans and aren’t monkeys any more.