A growing number of Thai citizens and human rights advocates all over the world is calling for the immediate release of 14 young activists who are currently in jail for participating in a peaceful protest against the military-backed government of Thailand.
The 14 activists, mostly students who are members of the Neo Democracy Movement, were arrested on June 26, 2015, after they organized a rally denouncing the military dictatorship. The army grabbed power last year to restore political stability. It drafted an interim constitution which became the basis in establishing a new government appointed by the military.
— Incognito (@Incognito_me) June 30, 2015
A referendum is tentatively scheduled next year to bring back civilian rule. Meanwhile, protests and the public gathering of five or more people are prohibited by authorities.
We insist that we will not post any bail, because we are confident that we didn't break any laws. If they want to release us, they have to release us as innocent people.
The defiance of the activists drew praise from many sectors including academics who urged authorities to respect the right of citizens to express dissent. The Network of Academics Concerned about Arrested Students issued a statement signed by 280 people asserting that “only a tyrant would react using brute force and enforcement of barbaric laws on students using their citizens’ rights to call for reinstatement of internationally-held values and governance.”
Various activities were held in many campuses to call for the release of the activists. A popular form of protest is the writing of Post-it messages on bulletin boards and freedom walls. Some teachers and students wrote ‘I’m proud to have been your lecturer’, ‘Nobody is behind this except ordinary people who love democracy’, and ‘Dictatorship will be destroyed and democracy will triumph’.
The Thai Student Center for Democracy warned the government that protests will continue:
They might imprison us but they will never imprison our wills and ideas. We will make them know that ideas is bullet proof.
Worachet Pakeerut, a law professor at Thammasat University, visited one of his students and reiterated the right of citizens to participate in a peaceful political action:
I’m visiting them and speaking on their behalf as their teacher. In fact, one of the students in there just got his grades and it turns out he passed my class, so I'm really happy about that.
This video hopes to inspire Thai citizens to support the struggle for democracy:
The campaign for the release of the students has also reached other countries. Thai students in Europe released a statement praising the imprisoned young activists, while some staged a protest in New York:
We have great respect for the courage of the 14 students. Not only are they a great example of intellects, whose duty is to think, write and express their critical mind, but also they are an example of regular people who assert their rights, sacrificing what little they have under dictatorship. Today, they are imprisoned just because of their peaceful expressions that aren’t in line with what the government wants the people to think.
— TH Students fr Democ (@TSCD_EN) July 5, 2015
The United Nations Human Rights Office for South East Asia is urging the Thailand government “to review its use of laws that limit freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.” The group Scholars at Risk is appealing that the students’ well-being while in custody is ensured, including access to counsel and family.
Reacting to these statements, a military spokesman assured the international community that the government will observe due process. Col. Winthai Suvaree said:
These international organizations should not worry about the Thai authorities’ procedure in this case, because Thai laws will only punish wrongdoers If they deliberate on the facts in a full way, with information from all sides, they will see that Thai officials have processed this case in a straightforward manner, using principles based on laws, political science, and nature of Thai society.
The office of the prime minister is reportedly open to dialogue with the student activists. Many are hoping that the students will be released after a court hearing which is scheduled on July 7, 2015.