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Students—Thailand’s Most Dangerous

On May 22, 2014, The Royal Thai Armed Forces seized power in Thailand in a coup d’état. Since then, democracy activists have been dragged before military courts and censored by media gag-order.  Meet the students who risk up to seven years in prison for holding a protest rally against the ruling military junta.

1. The Brave

The air is baking hot. A young woman wearing a collegiate jacket emblazoned with a law school emblem treads carefully toward the university in one of Thaliand’s largest cities, Khon Kaen. She stops several times and turns around anxiously, making sure no one is following her. 

Everything has changed. The only thing that remains constant is the burning sun that hangs from a cloudless sky over 21-year-old Jutamas Srihutthaphadungkit, or Ying, as she is also called.


Everything seems peaceful. And that’s the problem.


“Most people nod, smile and say everything is okay, but behind their facades, nothing is okay,” Ying says.


It is the day after another sleepless night.


She’s left the school uniform at home in protest. The two first years as a law school student went well. Then the RATF took power and she felt a need to show her discontent, to do something.


“To be scared is status quo in this country, but we’ve gotten used to it now,” she says, pulling her fingers through her jet-black hair.  

FINGRAR. Studenterna välkomnade den thailändska premiärministern med ”Hunger games”-tecknet när han besökte universitetet i Khon Kaen. De smet förbi säkerhetsvakterna och visade sedan upp sina t-shirts med texten ”Vi vill inte ha kuppen”. Därefter greps de av militärpolis.

2. A Divided Nation

Thailand is a country as loved as it is problematic, beyond the cliché tourism ads. While the news lenses are focusing on Iran, Greece and the immigrant crisis in Syria and Europe the military chokehold tightens on one of the most popular tourism destinations for Swedes. But the dictatorship –a longtime guiding light for democracy in the southeast, is sinking like a rock to the bottom of international rankings for freedom of the press.

Even if the coup of 2014 is number 19 since 1932—democratic rule in Thailand has come and gone like oceanic tides—it’s different this time around.

It appears that the generals want to change the political landscape, for good. Since May 2014, 751 people have been imprisoned, and 4,528 arrested for “political crimes”, according to the Thai organization, iLaw. Something as seemingly innocent as having lunch in a public place while reading George Orwell’s novel “1984” can be reason enough for arrest. Several of the detainees have testified about torture, and for the first time since the 1970s, military courts have been reinstated for civilian trials.

Punishments are draconian. Citizens can receive at least three years for anti-military graffiti and up to 50 years imprisonment for unfavourable Facebook posts about the royal family.

When the coup orchestrators visited the university at Khon Kaen, Ying and her student friends lined up in front of the stage.

Inspired by the Hollywood movie The Hunger Games they silently held up three fingers in the air, as a symbol of the suppressed people’s protest against the state, which is growing more authoritarian every day.

That was all it took for hundreds of policemen, armed vehicles and security guards to flood the school grounds.

“We were arrested and forced to undergo an ‘attitude adjustment’ and sign a document where we gave up our rights and promised to never protest against the military dictatorship again. If we do, prosecution and long prison terms awaits us,” Ying says, a serious expression on her face.

It’s hard to grasp that the young woman sitting next to me on a bench under bird-filled trees in front of the law school is considered one of Thailand’s most dangerous women by the military state.

“I don’t understand what it is that I do that is so dangerous,” she says.

She’s neither angry, nor frustrated, but mostly tired. It’s a fatigue neither vacation nor rest can overcome. It is rooted in the constant stress she’s lived under for more than a year.

A stone’s-throw away, by the university entrance, a member of the Dao Din group, dressed in black, stands as a lookout. Beyond the park is another activist, hunching down, pretending to tie his shoes.

On paper, Dao Din is a student group with focus on environmental issues, which since the 1970s, has encouraged people to recycle and protect the country’s natural resources. In the eyes of the army, their organization poses a threat to king and country.

For Ying, who’s Dao Din’s spokesperson, everything started with a field trip to the countryside.

“From the beginning I didn’t care about much, I was like many other students, but during that trip out in the countryside, I couldn’t ignore the circumstances under which people lived. After that, I had to do something about the injustice.”

With their three fingers on that day of protest, the students pointed at the suppressed feelings that had simmered under the surface of the Thai society and the act echoed across the country.

“The authorities are watching us. We are constantly monitored,” Ying says.

One by one, the Dao Din members appear out of the shadows and sit down around Ying like a human fortress. Some of them wear the school uniform, properly buttoned up.

Others wear the black college jacket with the law school emblem. And one guy sports long hair and Che Guevara-like clothing— a comparison he genuinely dislikes.

“We do not have any international idols or models. Our commitment is to protest against what is happening now, here in Thailand. “

There’s tension in the air. For the first time in two years, a student union election is about to be held at the university.

“But there is only one party to vote for,” Ying explains.

After long and numerous discussions, Dao Din decided to launch their own party this morning. They call it “Article 44” after a paragraph in the Thai constitution that gives the military unlimited powers.

“Our first election promise: No school uniforms—it’s too hot. We should be able to wear what ever we want. I am not aware of any scientific evidence that a uniform improves learning and I’m not buying the argument that the uniform would decrease the gap between rich and poor students. Look around. Some parents have to pawn jewelry in order to afford school uniforms for their children. Is this acceptable?” Ying asks and the others nod in support.

The student party’s other platform they will take to the polls is: “Saying no to bullying.”

“Those who are older have to stop tormenting the younger,” Ying says.

The third issue remains, hanging in the air, unspoken for a moment.

“And, we want to squash the military power, of course. The core of our campaign is to give the power back to the people,” Ying explains.

The Dao Din group hasn’t tried to formally get their “Article 44” approved before the election. In order to get a party approved, students must prove that they are “moral” and have grades above a certain level.


“Who has energy for that? We just started our campaign!” Ying says.

In response to the question of how the election will be carried out, Ying says it’s complicated, but promises to show me.

“Come along,” says Ying, standing up.

TENTAÅNGEST. ”Vi vill att makthavarna ger människor demokratiska rättigheter. Riktiga val måste hållas snarast”, säger Noi som också vill hinna plugga till tentorna och inte bara demonstrera.

3. The Election Campaign

One could argue that the polarization in Thailiand is nothing new. Over the course of the last decade, we have seen bold headlines and footage of red shirts versus yellow shirts, fighting in the streets, rioting and burning tires in front of the huge, air-conditioned shopping centers.

After the second-to-last coup in 2006, elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was expelled and the power struggle has since continued between the royalist yellow shirts, who want an informed government, and the red shirts, who demand that election results are respected.

Even if nearly 3,000 people died from the perpetual “war on drugs” during Thaksin’s rule, he won great popularity, especially in the northern part of the country, by implementing health care reform, supporting small-scale business and treating the countryside peasants as people.

In short, the millionaire Thaksin Shinawatra, introduced something new to Thai politics—asking what voters wanted and then giving it to them.

The rural area outside Khon Kaen is known as the red shirts’ stronghold. Thaksin’s billion-dollar investment in the region for rice-subsidization and local health centers made him immensely popular. This is where trains heading to Bangkok were stopped by the red shirts during protests in 2011, and governmental buildings set on fire.

It is also the area that has been hardest hit by the post-coup military power. Shortly after May 2014, Jatuporn Prompa, chairman of the red shirts, was imprisoned and wasn’t released until the redsmade a written promise to get out of politics. All the red shirts’ radio- and TV-stations are banned and tens of thousands of web pages have been blocked in the past year.

The prosecution of 26 activists is now underway. They are charged with orchestrating a terrorist attack, something they deny and reject as fabricated accusations.

Martial law, forbidding groups of people from congregating in public places, is upheld by an iron fist.

Another explanation as to why the northern towns and villages are political hotbeds is also that many who live there have worked in and commuted to Bangkok for a long time.

During the peak season, many of the women in these rural areas work in the resorts and many of the men drive taxis in Bangkok. Between seasons they go back home. This leaves the people of the north half connected to an agricultural society while partially immersed in a pulsating urban life.

Today’s Thailand divides along fault lines of socio economic class and city, and the upper middle class, or all of those who aren’t taxi drivers and farmers generally declare that they prefer the dictatorship over a democracy riddled with constant protest movements.

The Bangkok elite, aligned with the yellow “democratic party,” see Thaksin and his illiterate farmers as a threat against the old order. Whatever the motive, all of them agree that the coup d’état last May effectively stopped both street protests and political dialogue. Things got silent.

Dead silent.

No one spoke about how politicians threw their cell phones in the river and burned their red shirts. Or about censored media and closed radio stations. Until the words suddenly started seeping out from students who had grown tired of being afraid, and punctured the silence by holding up three fingers in the air.

ORÄDDA. I Thailand växer nu protesterna mot den styrande militärjuntan. På anslagstavlan utanför vallokalen på universitetet i Khon Kaen har aktivister satt upp ett plakat med texten ”Nej till militärdiktaturen”.

4. Expectations

It feels like thunder in the air, when the Dao Din-group moves toward the polls. All students they meet on the asphalted path ambling through the lush campus are encouraged to vote the dictatorship out of power by casting their votes for the newly formed Article 44 party.

“You have to exercise your right to vote, it’s of huge importance to democracy. Don’t mark a box, just write: “No to the military dictatorship” on the ticket so it becomes invalid,” Ying yells to passersby.

Most of them pretend not to hear and hurry past with their books clutched under their arms.

“Before the coup, most people were not interested in politics, and the situation hasn’t changed afterward,” Ying says.

“Many don’t even know what it means that the military now has the power. They don’t care. It’s slightly uncomfortable, considering that we are in a school where our classmates are the future lawyers and politicians of Thailand,” Noi chimes in.

But the Dao Din members remain positive. They believe they still have silent support at the university, and understand that everyone isn’t prepared to be imprisoned for their opinions. The price for protesting can be high. The military can suddenly knock on their parents’ door and ask how they have raised their children.

“We know that many in the faculty support us, but they can’t show it openly. It’s too dangerous,” Ying says.

A minute later we are standing in front of a bulletin board. After a brief hesitation, Ying tapes up a pink letter-sized poster that demands an end to the military rule. Students are passing byen route to the voting polls.

“I’m guessing two minutes,” Ying says.

Others are hoping for five. The question is how long the statement get to remain on the bulletin board divides the group in two sides for a moment. Then they agree that the most important part is to get a picture of it before it’s removed.

Dao Din’s Facebook group has 20,000 followers.

“The military intelligence service reads everything and according to them, we are a threat against national security,” Ying says.

Three in Ying’s group stand in front of the bulletin board. They hesitate for a moment, like people do when playing rock, paper, scissors, trying not to give away their choice to an opponent. Then they count to three, look at each other, and triumphantly hold up three fingers: liberty, equality and fraternity.

“I should really be studying for exams right now,” Ying says and laughs. “I honestly don’t have time for this dictatorship.”

As soon as they turn their backs, the pink note is ripped off the board by a man in plain clothes and black sunglasses. It didn’t even take one minute.

AKTIVIST. De två första åren av juridikstudier gick bra. Sedan tog militären makten i maj 2014 och Noi kände att hon var tvungen att agera.

5. Festival for Democracy

While waiting for the election results, the Dao Din-members walk to a nearby coffee shop. Aside from the problems of living under an authoritarian military rule, life as a student is life as usual: exams, crushes, music and parties.

“We drink every day, the goal is to get drunk,” one of Ying’s friends says and starts humming the theme song from the movie Les Miserables: “Do you hear the people sing, singing the songs of angry men, this is a music of a people who will not be slaves again.”

The film has been banned in the cinemas and students who have sung the song in public

have been brought in for interrogation. During the day, they only dare to hum the song, not expressing the lyrics.

“We can’t sing it out in the open any more,” Ying says.

Posting the note and encouraging voters to write “No to the military dictatorship” instead of marking a vote in the designated box, is a huge gamble and after a moment’s wait for the results, the determination evaporates, replaced with doubt.

Nobody knows how many people will dare buck the system and write their opinion, and nobody knows how the election officials will react.

“We have to do something. It may not be the most thought-through plan, but we have to do something,” says Noi, as if to convince herself while sipping her coffee.

Noi’s T-shirt has a red star across the chest.

“We are inspired by Che Guevara and that faction, maybe that’s why they are scared of us, but we aren’t communists. That’s the old generation’s interpretation of the red star, but not ours. We have our own beliefs,” Noi says.

It gets silent again.

Our conversation transitions focus to the fact that purple is the new yellow. That the royalists have begun using the Queen Sirikit Kitiyakara’s colors instead of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s, which is yellow. And, the biggest no-no, what we are not supposed to talk about, and what I am not allowed to write about: Thoughts on His Royal Majesty. The others are silent. There is a constant silence everyone carries around like a bad disease.

“The military has weapons and prisons. That’s why everyone in Thailand is silent. On the surface people act as if everything is okay, it’s human nature to adjust to any type of situation and the older generation have a lot to lose, but not us students, we have nothing to lose,” says Noi.

Some students rise and start moving toward the steps of the polling station, where the counting of the votes will be done openly.

“I have no expectations, that way I won’t get disappointed, but I am nervous. I am always nervous, considering what we have to lose,” Noi says and goes silent. Outside the wind picks up, the skies are grey, and the air smells like it does, pre-downpour.

On the other side of the window, a large crowd of about 100 curious students have gathered.

“I don’t have any large hopes, in reality this will unlikely make a big difference, but as a principle it feels important to have written ‘no to the dictatorship’ on the ticket. One should always vote, even if there is only one candidate,” Noi says and finishes her now-cold coffee.

The dulled ominous sound of the Dao Din members’ drums echoes between the university buildings. The murmur from the cluster of students, who have gathered to await the resultsrises toward the treetops.

Everyone is silent, listening, as a stern man, dressed in a pink buttoned-down shirt and black shoes, appears on the steps in front of the three polls.

“Of the 1,050 students who are registered to vote, 250 exercised their rights and voted,” he begins, which puts a smile on Noi’s face and she sarcastically comments: “Yeah, why vote now, when you get a chance to vote again in 20 years?”

The man starts counting the ballots and the members of Dao Din sit down together at one of the tables.

It’s a different election night party. The asphalted courtyard is nearly empty. If this is a telltale sign of Thailand’s democratic ways in terms of voting in local elections, it’s a gaping hole. The election was held with a 24-hour notice, so few knew about it.

One of the seven Dao Din members stares at the first ballot that is on display. One of them has brought a drum; another holds a guitar.

“We are going to try and create a democracy festival, based on this rigged election,” one of the students says.

It doesn’t look very promising.

The first ballot is counted, checked and approved as a vote for the sole candidate. The second ballot follows the same procedure.

“Endorse, endorse, endorse,” the election official calls out, while he makes check marks on a blackboard.

The minutes tick on and vote after vote is counted in support for the only candidate. Everyone is waiting for what will happen when an invalid vote appears. Will the election official read the text on the ticket? Or, will he just say that it’s null?

“Authorized vote for the candidate, authorized vote for the candidate,” the man in the pink shirt keeps repeating.

The thump of a palm against the drum skin, accompanies his monotone voice.

The students start looking woeful, their glances doubtful. They must have at least dared to write “No to the military dictatorship” themselves. Or…?

“Authorized vote for the candidate, authorized vote for the candidate…”

At the bottom of the steps stands the plain-clothed man who tore down their pink election poster, snapping pictures of the Dao Din-members with his cellphone.

And then the man in the pink shirt suddenly stops. He presses the ballot paper between his thumb and index finger, hard, and hesitates a split second. Then, in the same monotone voice he says: “Unauthorized vote!” and grabs a new ticket as fast as a cobra and keeps on reading.

“Authorized vote for the candidate, authorized vote for the candidate…”

But the spell is broken.

The seven conspirators jump up from the bench and shout at the top of their lungs. They hug each other and jump up and down in excitement.

The man with the drum is banging louder and from the guitar comes harder and harder riffs. The “Unauthorized vote” is placed in a metal box in the background, and the jubilation knows no boundaries.

It takes a little while before order is restored, but the mood has changed forever.

And just as everything has calmed down, another unauthorized vote turns up.

And another one.

And another one.

The check marks on the blackboard next to the door grow in number. The election official, never utters a word of what’s written on the tickets he declares non-valid. They just disappear into the darkness of the tin box.

But everyone knows: “No to the military dictatorship.”

One hour later all votes are counted and recorded and after the election official has declared the winner of the election, he picks up the tin box and walks off with the 15 red-hot votes.

On the chalkboard it’s white on black, 168 students voted for the only candidate and 33 against.

STUDENTNATIONEN. Här i kaoset utanför det egna huset pustar studenterna ut. Bara att hålla ett möte med fler än fem personer är ett brott mot förbudet att hålla politiska sammankomster.

6. Headquarters

About a thirty-minute fast moped-drive away, from Khon Kaen University stands a modest two-story house.

To say that it’s messy would be an embellishment. Walking inside, it looks like someone has thrown a hand grenade into an already-shabby dormitory: beer bottles, dirty clothes and broken plastic chairs are strewn about the rooms after last night’s party. A sleepy face looks out from a door as two dogs roam around.

In the corners are bags of organic rice the students sell for the benefit of farmers in the region The bags are marked with glued-on labels carrying the movement’s name: Dao Din Rice.

One student simply grabs a water hose and begins rinsing off a table and a couple of wicker chairs.

The stories about parties every night appear to be true.

They are a restless bunch. They move around constantly, checking their phones and throwing out comments to each other. Ying and Noi sit down and begin picking ticks off the two dogs. The guys clean up bottles and dig out beer caps trodden into the mud. On the freezer where they keep ice for their beer is a sticker: “Chill for Peace” and other stickers promoting protest organizations, efforts against dam constructions, and the local citizens’ rights to fishing and agricultural land. A frayed banner reads: “The Poor People’s Network” and in a corner is a pile of flyers with the text: “No to privatization of the university.”

When the students have cleared spot in which to sit, they begin analyzing the election.

“In one way it went as expected, the only candidate won, but the 15 null votes was more than we could have hoped for. It’s a huge thing that so many dared to write ‘No to the military dictatorship’ on their tickets,” says Noi.

Outside, two mopeds driven by men wearing helmets with dark visors whiz by on the sparsely-traveled road.

Prior to the coup d’ètat, the Dao Din-members arranged field trips to the rural areas to learn more about the farmers’ situation, but now these trips have been banned/forbidden by the military. On the table are photos from some of those trips—photos of miles and miles of rice fields and barefooted farmers who are reflected in the water.

The pictures look like they belong in a gallery—but the theme is what’s become the epicenter of political unrest and protests that have shaken Thailand for the last 10 years. In the rural areas outside Khon Kaen, the village people have, for generations, struggled against lumber and mining companies and personal discrimination.

Before the coup, caravans of cars with demonstrators went to Bangkok, but now everything has stopped.

Noi and I walk outside and her thoughts turn to an upcoming trip to Mexico.

“We have seen on the news how farmers fight against the mining companies there,” Noi explains.

On the wall behind her is a sun-faded diploma Dao Din received from the crown prince for their work for the environment.

“We hesitated before we accepted, but we needed the money stipulated with it in order to get out in the rural areas to learn about the conditions the people live under out there,” Noi says.

Next to the diploma is an old cleaning schedule for whose turn it is to water plants, do the dishes and take out the trash.

In the background is the sound of beer caps being washed in a tub. Everything is recycled and will become art, and can be sold on the local market to raise money for the Mexico trip.

Noi tells me that she’s the first in her family of rice farmers to get an education.

“When I came home on break and told my family about the idea with organic farming they got angry and said ‘We didn’t send you to the university for you to become a farmer!’” she says and laughs so hard that she has to wipe her glasses on her black T-shirt.

In a country where everything is about status, the first thing one asks a new friend is where they are from and what schools they have attended. All social interaction is stratified by socio-economic status, origin and the shades of skin color.. Noi admits that she always been embarrassed by where she is from, a village called Issan, and that her family and friends always have felt marginalized.

“I think it’s because of TV. Everyone who is from Issan is serving or cleaning. I always said ‘I’m from Thailand’ but in school people questioned that, wondered if I was from Thailand or Laos,” Noi says, looking at her toes in the red sandals and pushing her glasses up on her forehead.

The turning point came when she joined Dao Din and started talking about politics with other students. She understood that there were others, students from other areas in Thailand that were in the same boat as her.

“The state has decided that it’s bad to be from the northern [rural] parts and being real Thai is superior, but there is no real definition of what Thai is, their view is largely a fabrication,” she says.

The last time Noi went home to her family, she asked her parents straight up, and learned that their family roots are from Laos, a bordering country in the north.

“Now I am proud. Those who are from Surin are always told they are Cambodians and more Kmer than Thai. It seems to be the same thing for everyone who’s not from Bangkok. The Thai state forces us to erase our identity and replace it with ‘Thainess’ but that would be wrong,” she says.

The interview is interrupted by a cat that jumps up on the table and rubs itself against Noi. There’s a thunderstorm on its way and the clouds are getting darker by the minute. The wind picks up and the leaves are rustling. Roaming hens seek cover.

Noi fishes out her cellphone and begins watching the Thai version of “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire”. Faces are lit by cellphone screens.

Some of Thailand’s most dangerous lean in over Noi’s screen and shiver in the rain that has just started.

“Our generation has to do something to change the situation, but that doesn’t mean that we are doing it for the country, we are doing it for ourselves. If we just let this pass, we have to live under a dictatorship, maybe for the rest of our lives, and I don’t want that,” says Ying.

The fact that these are law students picking up the battle axe makes sense, being that theirs is the only university program offering field trips to the rural areas.

Lightning suddenly splits the sky open, and the thunder rolls in a second later.

“Write that we want the silence to end, that more people take responsibility for their society and do something. Right now we risk becoming extinct. People like us are becoming alarmingly fewer in Thailand,” Ying says.

Even though they know they risk getting arrested and ending up in prison for arranging a political meeting with more than five people, the group is planning a new rally.

“This is bigger than us. After this exam period is over, we are going to demonstrate again,” Noi says and knocks with three fingers on the table.

SEGER. Att femton personer väljer att skriva ”Nej till militärdiktaturen” på valsedeln orsakar stort jubel bland aktivisterna.

7. The General

General Prayuth Chan-ocha, Thailand’s self-appointed Prime Minister and coup instigator, appears at the pulpit. He grabs the microphone with a steady hand and squints toward the crowd through the spotlight. He takes a big breath, ready to address his audience of hundreds of media representatives from all over the world.

Just a month ago, Prayuth threatened to execute “critical” journalists by a death squad.

“Don’t believe everything you read in the newspapers,” he begins.

The journalists stop eating and look up. Forks and knives clink down onto porcelain plates.

The waiters freeze and the enormous conference room in the five-star hotel in central Bangkok goes dead silent.

Rumor had it that the General everyone is whispering about would show up at the region’s biggest press conferences, and suddenly there is opportunity to ask the person in power about why students have been arrested in the north.

“You may think I am difficult, but you need to listen to what I have to say. Don’t be such negative nay-sayers like those of the human rights organizations,” the General says, killing the hope for questions.

All he wants is a “happy” Thailand and he repeats what he’s said already in every speech since he took power.

“My political project is about introducing ‘sustainable happiness’ in Thailand.”

That’s why the army has arranged festivals with music, free food and drinks, free haircuts, and moreover, the general has had the good taste to convey his message about “happiness” in a self-composed pop song.

“Some people don’t like me, others turn off the TV when I speak, but I know what you are doing, I follow you everywhere,” he adds.

The journalists on site aren’t laughing.

“I am not your enemy,” the General continues as if he’s read the journalists’ thoughts.

He has a lot to say and explain, now that he has the chance to speak, uninterrupted, about his future plans, economic growth and why things are the way they are in Thailand. He has so much to say and in such a monotone voice and so fast that the interpreter raises his arms in an act of hopelessness. The General sees the interpreter’s panic and raises his tempo. The passive aggressive rhetoric is delivered in a sarcastic tone.

“I have never, never closed a TV-station, or any newspaper, I respect you, but you must keep order in your own house. I don’t bully any one, I respect your jobs, but you have to support our country,” he says.

The whole international press corps, including myself, is uncomfortable, hoping that we are experiencing some kind of political satire.

Then he unexpectedly encourages all journalists to fly Thai Air “Since the flight attendants are so beautiful, or, they used to be… in the past they got fired when they got older.” My table neighbor almost chokes on his food.

The organizers are starting to flag that the time is up, only to be met by a scornful grin.

“What? My time is up? Oh no, I’m not about to stop. I have more things to say,” he declares and revs up his oratory speed even more and the interpreter is forced to leave the stage, exhausted.

A new interpreter is called in, picking up a new line of preaching about the supposed freedom of the press.

And then, abruptly, the General finishes by asking if anyone has any questions and before someone has a chance to actually pose one—perhaps a query about the imprisoned students— he quickly states: “That’s enough for today,” and he’s gone, just as suddenly as he came.

OVISSHETEN. Allt fler börjar sätta sitt hopp till studenterna som den kraft som kan visa på en väg framåt, ut ur den politiska låsningen.

8. The Imprisoned

One month later, I read the news via cellphone message.

Seven members of Dao Din have been arrested for demanding free elections on the one-year anniversary of the coup d’état.

“Don’t try to fool me and make me believe that you can’t say or do what you want ‘since Thailand is a democracy,’ you seem to have misunderstood the situation. Today, I decide the rules and you have to follow my rules,” Prayuth states.

But this time the arrests didn’t happen silently. All around Thailand, young people gathered at the universities, demanding that the imprisoned immediately be freed. More and more people are beginning to believe in students as a force to get Thailand out of its political deadlock.

“Our message is that we’d rather remain in jail than pay bail, since we see ourselves just as captive outside these walls,” the Dao Din-students said in a statement via their lawyer.

The detainees were arrested for “inciting unrest in a way that threatens Thailand’s national security”.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the prison, demanding the release of the students. It’s a breakthrough. Dao Din’s independent stance, free from ties with political parties, red or yellow shirts, allows for support from both urban residents and rural citizens. The military was there, both in uniform and plain-clothed, but decided against acting upon the demonstrators, even though the gathering violated the military-imposed law of more than five people congregating in a public place.

Pressured by the attention, General Prayuth has promised free elections before the year’s end, which tones down the international criticism. But everyone knows if that materializes, that would likely result in a new party with ties to Thaksin taking power.

Over the political climate hangs also the question about the health of the aging monarch, Bhumibol Adulyadej. The power struggle many predict will erupt at his death is already underway in full force.

On July 8, the seven members of the Dao Din-group walked out of the prison. They were now a tight unit under a new name, “Thai 14,” declaring themselves members of the newly established New Democracy Movement (NDM).

“Prison is not a dangerous place, just a boring place. Don’t be afraid of it. What is to be feared is letting the military dictatorship keep tyrannizing our Thai society,” they say from the courthouse steps.

Martin Schibbye

Den 30 september 2015