BANGKOK – Just over 12 hours after Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha declared a state of emergency on Thursday to quell peaceful protests in Bangkok, protesters pushed police out of the Ratchaprasong intersection in the heart of the city. The protests would last late into the night, with a crowd of protesters surrounded by luxury shopping malls as student-led protesters gave the government a firm and defiant reprimand.
After a violent march to Government House, the seat of the Thai government, on Wednesday evening, Thai citizens woke up to find protesters evicted for government reasons declared a state of emergency and arresting protesters – which kept the protesters on their toes.
"It appears that various groups of people in Bangkok have persuaded, instigated and carried out a public gathering in violation of public assembly law, which has created turmoil, chaos and disorder for the people," Prayuth said on Thursday and announced the state of emergency with powers granted under the 2005 Emergency Decree. The announcement was set on fire by human rights groups.
The demands of the demonstrators include Prayuth's resignation, the drafting of a new constitution and the reform of the monarchy. Prayuth, who took power in a coup in 2014, has kept his grip with the help of the military.
Aside from the almost daily protests from students, high school students and committed protesters across the country, the protesters are trying to revive the history of Thailand's democratic heritage. The result was a battle of will between the demonstrators and the Thai authorities.
Three weeks ago, the protests culminated in the erection of a plaque to replace the one that disappeared in 2017, to commemorate Thailand's transition from absolute monarchy in 1932. The new badge for democracy was removed by the authorities overnight. Month-long protests and debates about changing the constitution also met with disappointment when the government subsequently delayed its decision until November.
After a brief dispute with police over taking over Ratchadamri Road under the BTS station in central Bangkok, the protests remained peaceful well into the evening when protesters threw open the security gate in Ratchaprasong to cheer an electrified crowd. Police vehicles attempted to enter the area after 9:30 p.m. but were turned away.
“It's an exciting day, isn't it? This is very important for all Thai people, ”said Tak, 56, and took a selfie with the broken BTS gate. “The Thais have come together. We wait so long. "
The police read Prayuth's emergency decree over a loudspeaker to receive boos, mockery and three-fingered greetings. This gesture comes from the Hunger Games movies and has become a symbol of Thailand's pro-democracy struggle.
Protest leaders Anon Nampa, 36, and Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, 22, were arrested Thursday, and the remaining Free Youth Students' leaders issued a statement reiterating that protest is a human right. Anon tweeted Thursday that he would be helicoptered to Chiang Mai without a lawyer.
"Please release my friends," said a protester who referred to himself as Ashley on Thursday. He repeated the evening's "Free Our Friends" call and held an anti-SLAPP sign in his hand. “In Thailand we have the problem of not being able to speak. … You arrested 21 of our friends last night at 4:00 am. "
Activists Prasit Krutharot, Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul and Nutchanon Pairoj were arrested along with Anon and Parit. Parit, Panusaya and Nutchanon were denied bail. The protests in the north of Chiang Mai were also held in solidarity on Thursday.
With so many of the protest leaders detained, Thursday's protests for democracy were led by the lesser-known protesters Panupong Jadnok or Mike Rayong. Instead of the stage lights and high profile rappers that were a hallmark of the August protests, Panupong would scream into a sound system on the back of a pickup truck at the ad hoc rally on Thursday in front of a growing crowd.
The government's state of emergency followed a day of tense protests at the Democracy Monument, an important place in Bangkok's protest history. Only a few thousand protesters reached the Democracy Monument Wednesday lunchtime, dwarfed by streets of yellow-clad pro-royalists who were violently deployed in military vehicles, double-decker tourist buses and even garbage trucks.
More than 10,000 pro-democracy protesters would finally march in the government building that evening, a colorful crew of students, older protesters and the beleaguered red shirts – older protesters who originally gathered in 2010 against a military coup four years ago.
By the end of the day, the demonstrators had broken through a flood of police barricades leading to the government building, and riot police dispersed the stragglers in the early hours of the morning. On Thursday, Bangkok woke to its second state of emergency following the COVID-19 emergency decree that began in March.
The new state of emergency prohibits gatherings of five or more people and the posting of news or information online that could create fear or harm national security. Since Thursday, True Visions, the Thai broadcaster of the Charoen Pokphand Group – Thailand's largest private company – has been censoring CNN coverage of the protests.
The government received the justification it needed to crack down on the largely peaceful nationwide protests when protesters blocked a motorcade of King Maha Vajiralongkorn's family members mentioned directly when Prayuth declared a state of emergency.
With the government intending to use the royals to protect itself from criticism, it has previously been reluctant to use the monarchy as a weapon, particularly in accordance with section 112 of the Criminal Code, also known as the Lèse Majesté Act. The government is reluctant to use Section 112 as it creates a lot of criticism, and even the King has condemned the use of civilians. Instead, the authorities rely on sedition charges and so-called "computer crimes", which usually involve social media posts.
Thai protests usually avoid the royal family's taboo subject. But in recent months, protests have included calls for monarchy reform and have not been shy of criticizing the king, who is far less popular than his father Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in 2016. Protesters accuse him of living a luxury life in Germany instead of spending time in his own country, an issue that has become particularly acute during the pandemic. Protesters greeted them with three fingers as they slowed down the motorcade of Queen Suthida, the king's fourth wife, and police have issued arrest warrants for those involved in the incident.
Pheu Thai, a prominent opposition party, issued a statement condemning the emergency decree but also denied previous reports that supporters would be supported. MPs from Move Forward, another opposition party, also condemned the move.
"The government must clear the protesters, immediately lift the state of emergency and stop harassing civilians," said Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, founder of the Progressive Movement and former leader of the Future Forward Party, which Prayuth's government disbanded in its broad right of opposition Year.
Without elections, Prayuth's resignation or a revision of the constitution, there is no clear path forward for the military-controlled government or the demonstrators.
"They ignore us for so long," said a protester, who was standing arm in arm on Ratchadamri. "Can you ignore that?"