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Pro-democracy protesters, led by students from the Free Youth group and the Student Union of Thailand, calling for democratic reforms on July 18, 2020, at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok. Photo and caption by Darika Bamrungchok/EngageMedia. Used with permission.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, and the imposition of an emergency decree which prohibits mass gatherings, young Thai activists continue to organize mass protests across the country.

This student-led pro-democracy movement marks the first time in modern Thai history that the monarchy has been criticized publicly. Thailand has a strict Lèse Majesté (anti-Royal insult) law, punished with up to 15 years in jail.

The first wave of protests was sparked in February 2020 by the forced dissolution of an opposition party which outraged and inspired young people to organize pro-democracy actions. Despite a lockdown in March, the “youthquake” continued, with young Thais using the internet to speak out on political issues, build resistance networks, and launch online protests.

The second wave of protests was signaled by the student-led protest on July 18 at Bangkok’s landmark Democracy Monument. More than 2,000 protesters gathered and raised three demands, namely dissolving the parliament, rewriting the military-based constitution, and ending the intimidation and arbitrary arrests of critics of the government.

Students and youth activists echo these demands in various forms of creative online and offline protests. For example, some have adopted as a symbol of defiance the three-finger salute inspired by the popular United States movie series, “The Hunger Games.”

On August 16, more than 20,000 people assembled again at the Democracy Monument in central Bangkok. It was the biggest protest in Thailand since the military grabbed power in 2014.

Authorities have since summoned dozens of student leaders, artists, and human rights activists and threatened them with harassment suits, yet the movement has gained nationwide support. Pro-democracy advocates from various sectors have also participated in several rallies organized by students.

Besides, young activists from Hong Kong and Taiwan have also issued solidarity statements that reflect the growing influence of the #MilkTeaAlliance, a netizen-driven democracy campaign challenging Chinese online trolls.

For more context about Thailand’s military-backed government, read the coverage of Global Voices from 2014 to 2017.

For more details, our partner EngageMedia has published an explainer about the situation in Thailand.

We will also continue to republish the coverage provided by our Thai media partners Prachatai and The Isaan Record.

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