Thai protests: some students to skip graduation ceremony graced by king

South China Morning Post

Posted at Oct 31 2020 02:43 PM

Students in Thailand are set to boycott a second day of graduation ceremonies at Bangkok’s Thammasat University, where King Maha Vajiralongkorn will hand out diplomas.

Pro-democracy activist groups had called for students to skip the ceremony, which involves each person walking up to the king, paying respects, and receiving the degree from his hands.

University graduations in Thailand are traditionally presided over by the king or another senior member of the royal family.

The youth-led pro-democracy movement wants Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to step down, the constitution to be amended to make it more democratic, and reforms to make the monarchy’s activities more transparent and accountable. It has been holding almost daily rallies around the country, some attracting upwards of 10,000 people.

Thammasat University has a reputation for liberal views and was the scene of a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 1976.

The Thai king arrived at Thammasat late on Friday afternoon amid no visible protests. There were no immediate reports of any disruption to the ceremony, which took several hours.

Posters and props supporting the protest movement were visible at rehearsals of the event. Over 9,000 students were expected to graduate at Thammasat on Friday and Saturday.

Several students earlier on Friday explained their plans.

“Some people say it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience (to meet the king),” said one graduate, a 24-year-old who identified himself as Jack. “I don’t want to meet him. I don’t want to pay respect to people like him.”

Thatsanee Wan said she discussed the matter with about 10-15 friends, and a minority chose not to attend, while others generally bowed to their family’s wishes.

“For me, I chose not to attend. I did attend the rehearsal and asked myself how I felt. And I felt that it wasn’t right,” Thatsanee said.

“Why do we need to worship him like a god? I’ve always asked myself these questions,” said Bowie, another graduate.

The protest movement charges that King Vajiralongkorn wields an inordinate amount of power in what is nominally a democracy under a constitutional monarchy.

The monarchy has long been considered an untouchable institution, revered by a large part of the population and protected by a lese majeste law that mandates a three-to-15-year prison term for anyone found guilty of defaming the monarch and his immediate family.

Three prominent Thai pro-democracy activists were in hospital on Saturday after chaotic scenes outside a Bangkok police station overnight as officers tried to slap them with further criminal charges.

A court on Friday ordered the release of Panupong “Mike” Jadnok, Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul and Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak who have been in custody since mid-October on sedition charges – but police sought to question them over outstanding arrest warrants.

Panupong appeared to be unconscious as he was loaded into an ambulance outside the police station on Friday night after being transported in a police van from jail.

Local media said he fainted after being subjected to a “chokehold” by plainclothes police.

Parit and Panusaya were allowed to mingle with about 300 supporters outside the station for several hours until police from Ayutthaya, 80 kilometres north of Bangkok arrived to question them in the early hours of Saturday morning.

“The iron bars can imprison the stars but not the starlight. In my heart, I still have faith in the people. The wind of change, the wind of democracy has arrived in Thailand,” Parit told the crowd, who sang songs.

Tosaporn Sererak, a doctor and former lawmaker, was with the pair as they were loaded into an ambulance around 4.30am.

“After questioning, both Rung and Penguin were feeling weak and have been sent to hospital where they are expected to stay for two-three days,” said Tosaporn, adding Parit had shards of broken glass in his skin from a scuffle in a police van.

Authorities will seek a court order to have them remanded in prison upon discharge from hospital.

Officers visited Panupong in hospital before 7am on Saturday.