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Scholars decry protest repression

Posted by pakin On November - 21 - 2014

Lecturer says regime treats critics as ‘enemies’

Soldiers’ harsh reactions to students holding symbolic demonstrations against the coup could cause more harm than good for reform and reconciliation, political experts warn.

But Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha stood firm on retaining martial law indefinitely. He said it was the only way to maintain national security.

“Tell me this. Who’s troubled by it?” he asked, quickly adding, “Conflict and social disparity must be stopped.”

Surichai Wun’Gaeo, Chulalongkorn University’s director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, said the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and the government should ease rules to allow free expression.

He said prohibiting freedom of expression could hinder reform and reconciliation because engagement is important for change.

“At first, people naturally allowed the NCPO to have full control over the situation. But it has been six months after the coup, and it should be time to create a more conducive and semi-normal environment for the election,” said the associate professor.

His comments came as police detained three student activists for anti-coup activities outside two Bangkok cinemas that are screening the latest chapter of The Hunger Games film series.

Two students were apprehended at Scala cinema for giving media interviews. The third was taken into custody outside Siam Paragon cinema after flashing The Hunger Games’ three-finger gesture, which symbolises rebellion against totalitarian rule.

On Wednesday, five members of Khon Kaen University’s Dao Dinstudent group were detained after they carried out a small anti-coup protest while Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was delivering a speech during his visit to the province.

Eleven other students from several universities were also briefly detained in Bangkok after they gathered at the Democracy Monument to give moral support to the Khon Kaen students.

“There are many issues that people have grievances about, and the government should be more open-minded and mature enough to regain the trust of the people,” Mr Surichai said.

Somphan Techa-athik, a humanities and social science lecturer at Khon Kaen University, said the students’ show of defiance was their reaction to the clampdown on freedom of expression.

“This is a transition to democracy, and those with different ideas should not be treated as enemies,” said Mr Somphan, adding that the military government must try to open space to allow people to express their opinions.

Some political scientists shared a similar view that the increasing dissatisfaction with the military is becoming a challenge to the military administration on how to handle its opponents.

Both Sukhum Chaloeysap of Suan Dusit Rajabhat University and Wanwichit Boonprong of Rangsit University said if the government responded to those anti-coup activities with forceful actions, the resistance would intensify.

On the other hand, if the government was too gentle in dealing with the dissenters, more groups will follow suit, the experts said.

Mr Wanwichit, meanwhile, said the NCPO has to distinguish between political movements and public participation in politics.

The political scientist also warned that if opponents of the military government were not given room to express their opinions freely, they would eventually turn to social media, which is far more difficult to control.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said he was confident the majority of the people in this country understood what the authorities were doing.

“Give us one year. When the National Reform Council finishes its task, the country will then head for an election. That is it,” said Gen Prawit, who added he was not worried about the current anti-coup movements.

In another development, a group of 102 academics, writers and activists issued a statement calling for the military government to lift martial law as soon as possible.

In Khon Kaen, the Dao Din group posted a message on its Facebook page saying all five students have been released after their “meetings” with the military. It said Jetsarit Namkot and Phayu Boonsophon had signed an agreement to stop activities against the military after their families had pressured them.

The other three students — Jatupat Boonpatraksa, Wichakorn Anuchon and Wasan Seksit — had refused to sign the agreement and they were later released without being charged, the group said. Likhit Amatayakhong, deputy rector of Khon Kaen University, said the university has yet to take any disciplinary action against the five students.

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