The Thai Government has summoned the heads of universities to tell them to stop students demanding reform of the monarchy. Warning that such calls could lead to violence, a member of the military-appointed Senate said on Sunday.
Thailand has faced near daily protests since mid-July calling for the departure of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. Gen. Prayut is the former junta leader who led the 2014 coup against a democratically elected government. The students are calling for a new constitution, elections and monarchy law reforms.
Student groups have also listed 10 demands to curb the powers of the Monarchy, breaking a long-standing taboo.
Senator Somchai Sawangkarn told Reuters that letters had been sent by state-appointed provincial governors to university heads, summoning them to meetings ahead of protests planned on Sept 19 in Bangkok and elsewhere.
“University administrators should create understanding with the students he said. The Universities should also put a stop to the demands on the monarchy.”
“We did not tell the governors to block the protests but we want them to create understanding with university officials. Especially on the 10 demands for the monarchy.”
Thai Government warns of article 112 Lese majeste law
An Interior Ministry official has confirmed that such letters had been sent and said it was standard procedure. The Royal Palace did not respond to requests for comment.
Student leader Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, 21, who was the first to read out the list of 10 demands for palace reform, told Reuters it amounted to “desperate tactics” by the Thai government.
“They are using this tactic to try to suppress and threaten people,” said Ms Panusaya. She is one of more than a dozen activists arrested over previous protests before being released on bail.
A letter to one university reviewed by Reuters said: “The Thai government is concerned about the behavior of some groups taking part in the protest that are inappropriate. For example those that want to topple the monarchy. Even more those that demand voiding Article 112 of the criminal code.”
Article 112 refers to Thailand’s lese majeste laws, which set a jail term of up to 15 years for insulting the king.
More student protests Could lead to violence
“This is a sensitive matter that could lead to violence,” the letter says. Referring specifically to incidents in 1976 and 1992. When security forces killed scores of anti-government protesters.
It said police would take legal action against anyone behaving inappropriately at protests. Even more the digital ministry would take legal action against anyone using social media “to distort and defame the monarchy.”
A participant at one meeting said authorities asked his university to draw up a list of potential troublemakers.
Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said he was not aware of the letters from the Interior Ministry. He said the government would not try to stop the protests, but authorities would enforce the law. The government did not want “escalation or clashes”.
Most universities are sponsored by the government
Anusorn Unno, a lecturer at Thammasat University who joined over 100 academics in a statement supporting students’ freedom of expression in August, said such orders were not unusual.
“The only difference this time is that some evidence has leaked,” he said.
Gen Prayut, who rejects accusations that last year’s elections were unfair, has said protests should be allowed. However not criticism of the monarchy.
The military stacked Senate helped in assuring Gen Prayut’s position as prime minister after the 2019 election. It was appointed by the previous military government. Student protesters and activist want it scrapped under a new constitution.