Photo: Thai Lawyers for Human Rights

A View from a Thai Youth on Tawan and Bam

January 27, 2023

Nana Tashiro, a young Thai living in New Zealand

As a 21-year-old who grew up in Thailand for 17 years, I was taught in school that “Thailand is a constitutional monarchy with a democratic political system.” However, my experience has shown this not to be the case. In my lifetime, there have been two military coups, and after the 2014 coup in particular, I felt we were silenced. We cannot talk about topics such as the military, the Junta, or the monarchy, which remain off-limits. We have to self-censor. These limitations and the propaganda shaped my understanding of the country when I decided to study abroad in 2018.

In 2020, a major shift in Thai society occurred when young Thais began to protest against the Military Junta. As a Thai, this offered a sense of hope that the country could eventually have the same freedom of political expression and discourse around the monarchy as other democratic and constitutional monarchies.

However, the young Thais trying to expand their rights and freedoms saw violent and punitive responses from the state. Indeed, under article 112 (Lèse-majesté), individuals may be incarcerated for up to 15 years for “defaming, insulting, or threatening the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent, or the Regent.”

Nana Tashiro

Young people of a similar age to myself, such as Tawan and Bam, have been directly affected by article 112. They sacrificed their right to bail after being charged with Lèse-majesté for conducting public opinion polls about royal motorcades before returning to prison. From 18 January, they went on a dry hunger strike, refusing both food and water, to call for “justice reforms, a moratorium on political prosecution, and a guarantee (from political parties) of people’s rights and liberties by repealing articles 112 and 116.” Moreover, even under bail conditions, many young Thais facing prosecution under article 112 have been ordered to wear electronic bracelets and subjected to 24/7 surveillance, amounting to house arrest.

After hearing of Tawan and Bam’s situation, my initial reaction was outrage. How can fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression be taken away merely for discussing the monarchy? Why must these fundamental rights be sacrificed by so many young people who should instead be enjoying their formative years in universities or spending quality time with family and friends? How can the Thai justice system be so punitive and spiteful towards two young girls and others who exercised their rights peacefully?

Many have raised concerns over the Thai authorities’ application of article 112. This article is subject to vague interpretation, meaning the authorities can use it to harm and prosecute people. According to iLaw, at least ten people have been arrested under article 112 between 2022 and 2023. This includes minors such as Baipor (20) and Get (23), who were charged under the article and denied bail for participating in a protest at the APEC summit in 2022. This demonstrates that the authorities can misuse article 112 to target anyone who expresses opposition to the Thai government and monarchy. Consequently, even minors, whom the state should protect, can be prosecuted for expressing views on their own country and future.

I do not fully support Tawan and Bam’s decision to go on a dry hunger strike due to the risks this poses to their health. Indeed, on 25 January they were hospitalized. However, I can neither ignore nor discredit their decisions or efforts to fight for their rights in this unjust system. As a young Thai, I am deeply ashamed that I can do nothing to help them beyond writing this article from a country that (unlike Thailand) respects freedom of speech and expression.

As young people, we lack the means to oppose article 112 other than with our minds, bodies, and sometimes lives. Tawan herself stated,

“if we are scared, when will society change? It might be hard to overcome this, but it isn’t impossible.”

It is my hope that this episode will demonstrate the problems of article 112, which has violated the rights and freedoms of Thai citizens, including those of innocent young people who are peacefully expressing and exercising their freedoms and who believe in democracy and human rights.

Finally, I hope Thailand will one day become a constitutional monarchy and a genuine democracy, becoming the country I thought it was in my early school years.

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