Young activists in line of fire as Thailand’s Covid strategy fails
Even though the Thai government has failed miserably to contain a raging Covid-19 outbreak that has cost thousands of lives and millions of jobs, it has found enough time to pursue young activists promoting democratic reforms in one of a repression ruled country have demanded a militarily allied regime since 2014.
Around 700 people, most of them university and college students, have been charged with various crimes last year as the Thai authorities attempt to punish youth who regularly take to the streets in Bangkok and other cities and who are long overdue political ones Calling for change since youth-led street protests erupted last summer against the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, a former army chief who took power in a coup seven long years ago.
Of those hundreds of people charged with serious crimes such as sedition and royal defamation that could potentially jail them for decades, up to 43 are teenagers under the age of 18, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR).
In total, more than 100 protesters have been charged with royal defamation, a crime in Thailand that carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison per charge. Many of the young protesters were beaten on numerous charges of lese majesty for comments they made during protests criticizing the institution of the monarchy or members of the royal family.
Since the Thai judiciary and its judgments are considered to be highly politicized in line with the demands and interests of the current regime, courts have conducted proceedings against suspects in a semi-secret atmosphere and thus violated their rights, according to a recently published statement by TLHR.
Thai courts have routinely imposed “overly strict measures in courtrooms, including limiting the number of spectators or requiring a pre-approved permit. In all trials, the court forbade taking notes on the grounds that it served order [whose effects] would likely undermine the principle of a free and fair trial, ”says the human rights group.
State authorities continuously monitor and harass people who have posted content related to the monarchy
Several prominent protest leaders have been indefinitely detained, but some have only recently been released on bail after months of detention.
But pro-democratic demonstrators are not only under constant surveillance in prison. In fact, the Thai authorities operate a nationwide surveillance network designed to root out any political opinions that run counter to the interests of those in power.
And even ordinary citizens can end up getting the attention of authorities for simply expressing their views online.
“Government agencies continuously monitor and harass people who have posted monarchy-related content,” states TLHR.
“This month TLHR also received reports that government agencies contacted [at] at least 18 citizens who expressed monarchical or political opinions at home. Likewise, people who share contributions or texts on the monarchy are also subject to regular home visits. “
The rights group cites the case of a university student in northern Lampang province who was visited by police officers and the head of his village after allegedly sharing content about King Maha Vajiralongkorn on social media.
The student was instructed to remove the post and not repost similar content.
In the city of Ayutthaya in central Thailand, an employee of a local company was put under surveillance by the police, who visited him twice in his apartment, for making social media posts critical of the monarchy.
The man in Ayutthaya was also told to stop engaging in such activities or he would be prosecuted.
Thailand’s tourism-dependent economy has stalled with record unemployment and large-scale business closings
Large-scale surveillance of citizens is taking place against the backdrop of an economically ruinous Covid-19 outbreak that has plunged millions of Thais into utter misery.
The Thai government’s much heralded mass vaccination program, which finally began in early June after repeated delays, was a mess from the start.
Due to opaque procurement procedures and the imprecise distribution of available doses, there has been a chronic shortage of vaccines, a condition that has resulted in millions of locals waiting for vaccines with little hope as the virus continues to infect and kill with up to 10,000 new ones documented cases and 100 deaths per day alarming.
At the same time, Thailand’s tourism-dependent economy has collapsed with record unemployment and large-scale business closings. The longer the mismanagement of the crisis continues, the worse the consequences will be for the country’s long-suffering citizens.
It is high time the Thai government stopped persecuting its critics and tackled the country’s grave challenges. Failure to do the latter will lead to epic misery in the weeks and months to come.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.