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

Thousands gathered in Bangkok in an anti-dictatorship protest despite the prohibition on mass gathering. Photo from Prachatai

The original version of this article was published by Prachatai, an independent news site in Thailand, and was edited and republished by Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.

The October 16 police crackdown on protesters in Bangkok has not deterred the people’s will to express their opposition to dictatorship and criticize the monarchy. Instead, Thai demonstrators have shifted from communal protests to mobile leaderless ones.

Protesters turned up at many BTS Skytrain stations on the afternoon of October 17, in line with the strategy announced after the October 16 crackdown by the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, the Thammasat University student group protest organizers. The message stated that “Everyone is a leader.”

In response, the police held a press conference at 1:30pm warning against protests that obstructed transportation routes. The BTS Skytrain stations were ordered closed between the Ari and Phromphong stops from 2:30pm onwards. Phayathai Station on the Airport Link was closed, and all access points to Asok intersection were blocked.

Most police resources appear to have been deployed at the Victory Monument. But no protestors turned up there.

READ MORE: Why are young people protesting in Thailand?

The police said that teargas would not be used against protesters, but that water coloured with chemical dyes would be used to mark protesters’ clothing to identify them for possible future arrest. Doctors confirmed that these chemicals were harmless.

All BTS Skytrain and MRT subway stations were also closed by the authorities as protesters started gathering.

Closing Skytrain and subway stations was a tactic which the authorities hoped would discourage protesters who had been demonstrating over the last several days against the government, calling for constitutional amendments, respect for human rights, and reforms to the monarchy.

A closed MRT station and people who raised 3 fingers at the BTS gate. Photo and caption by Prachatai,

But people started gathering in many different areas. At Asok station, protesters handed out sheets of paper for people to make signs. Protesters delivered anti-government speeches, demanding that the government “release our friends, release our children”. Some said they were going to Lad Phrao intersection.

At 3:35pm, at Lad Phrao intersection, people came down from the platform to the street in front of Central Plaza Lad Phrao and gradually took over the areas.

Protest groups formed at three main spots around the city: Udom Suk BTS station, from where protestors later moved to nearby Bang Na intersection; Lad Phrao BTS station, occupying the Lad Phrao five-way intersection; and Wongwian Yai BTS station.

An additional gathering point was at Samyan Mitrtown shopping mall opposite Chulalongkorn University (CU), which announced by the Spring Movement, an CU student activist group. The mall announced that it would close at 5:00pm.

Protesters exchanged stories of their experiences of the previous night’s crackdown. One protester said:

There is no more staying neutral, either you side with democracy or side with dictatorship that uses power unfairly.

Another also called for a boycott of graduation ceremonies presided over by members of the royal family in order to cause a shift in the cultural structure.

At 4:35pm, activist Sombat Boonngam-anong and a few other people deliverd a speech on the Asok station skywalk, as they could not travel anywhere else due to the transportation shutdown. There was also a protest at Ramkamhaeng University.

Protesters raising 3 fingers at Wongwian Yai. Photo by Prachatai

At Wongwian Yai, protesters asked the question, “Who killed King Taksin?” King Taksin ruled in the Thonburi era (1767-82) and died under mysterious circumstances that allowed King Rama I of the current Chakri dynasty to assume power. Wongwian Yao, where protesters were standing, is the location of Thonburi, the country's former capital. An equestrian statue of King Taksin is situated there.

At 4:40 pm at the Lad Phrao intersection, occupying protesters organized a guard and arranged barriers in preparation for a potential crackdown. Some came prepared with masks and helmets.

At 6:00pm, protesters at the various locations gave the three-finger salute while singing the National Anthem. Raising three fingers during the National Anthem, which has become a common protest action, was first proposed by Parit ‘Penguin’ Chiwarak, a student activist who is now in police custody.

The protests proceeded with no reports of any clashes or crackdowns. Then, one by one, the protests dissolved between 6:45 and 7:45pm.

On the day before, on October 16, the demonstrators moved the protest to Pathumwan after the police heavily deployed forces to occupy Ratchaprasong intersection, the original protest venue. But because it was only a few hundred yards from the original spot, it did not take long for riot control forces to redeploy and disperse the protesters with high-pressure water cannons, riot shields, batons and water mixed with a chemical irritant.

A new state of emergency was announced after the overnight protest on October 14. This emergency decree covers Bangkok and is aimed at quelling the ongoing protests, which the government can now call unlawful and claim that they endanger public safety.

The new emergency decree prohibits gatherings of more than 5 people, enables detention for 7 days without charge, authorizes high-ranking police officers to conduct searches without court orders, and prohibits civilians and media from publishing or broadcasting information which threatens the country's stability.

On October 17, Pol Major General Yingyot Thepchamnong, deputy spokesperson of the Thai National Police, said during a press briefing that political gatherings violate the emergency decree and the police have to respond according to the law. As the protesters have adjusted their tactics, the police will likely change their tactics as well.

Written by Prachatai

This post originally appeared on Global Voices.