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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:

Silencing the media won't stop the student-led protests in Thailand

Failing to portray protesters as violent, Thai government lifts severe state of emergency 

Thailand's democracy protests reflect rising dissatisfaction over the monarchy 

Undaunted by the October 16 crackdown, protestors once again take to Bangkok's streets 

Thai activists share hopes and wishes during a night camp protest

Thai protesters submit petition for monarchy reforms, install ‘people’s plaque’

What's happening in Thailand? Youth activists rally to protect democracy, freedom of speech

‘Khon Kaen has had enough': Pro-democracy activists protest in northeast Thailand

Student Union of Thailand president arrested over anti-government protest

Youth-led protests in Thailand get support from citizens demanding ‘real democracy’

From horticulture to Harry Potter cosplay, Thai students find creative ways to protest against repression

Human rights defenders and journalists under attack in Southeast Asia

Students lead mass protest against dictatorship at Thailand's Democracy Monument

Thailand's ‘youthquake': Activism in the time of COVID-19

Netizens from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand brew ‘Milk Tea Alliance’ against Chinese speech police

Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong responds to Thai Army Chief

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