Why are young people protesting in Thailand?

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

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and the imposition of an emergency decree which prohibit mass gatherings, young Thai activists continue to organize massive protests across the country. This student-led pro-democracy movement marks the first time in modern Thai history when the Thai monarchy has been talked about publicly in a critical way since doing so is a jailable offense.

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 the COVID-19 March lockdown, the ‘youthquake’ continued and saw young Thais use cyberspace 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.

Another significant demand is the call for reforms of the the monarchy, a topic which is not only taboo but also a criminal offense since Thailand has a strict Lèse Majesté (anti-Royal insult) law.

Students and youth activists echo these demands in various forms of creative online and offline protests. For example, Thai protesters have adopted as a symbol of their defiance and demand for democracy the three-finger salute inspired by the popular US 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 youth-led protest 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 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 explainer about the situation in Thailand.

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

As we continue to update this page, read more in the following stories:

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