Academics defend protests

PHOTO: Nikkei Asian Review

Legal scholars at 2 Bangkok universities defended students’ right to protest today, and a prominent opposition politician reacted to yesterday’s arrest of student leader Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak by slamming PM Prayut Chan-o-cha for “breaking his promise” to listen to young protesters.

Law experts at Thammasat University called on the government to stop using the law to deprive students of their basic right to protest peacefully. The statement was issued yesterday by 23 lecturers amid rising tensions between protesters and state authorities that saw police arrest student activist leader Parit Chiwarak as well as 2 others. Police asked the Criminal Court to cancel bail for Arnon Nampa, a lawyer, and Phanuphong Chatnok, a leader of Free Youth group, who were arrested last week for protest-related activities.

The Thammasat scholars called for tolerance and open debate, pointing out Thailand is a multipolar political environment. They warned that tension between democracy advocates and conservatives is rising fast. The statement said “Every party must seek peaceful solutions to the clash of ideas and ensure violence is prevented.”

“In a democratic society, every party has to accept and protect the basic right to gather peacefully, while state authorities must guarantee safety for people to exercise their rights.”

The academics pointed out that there is no ultimate “good” among the different values held by various groups. Thus, those exercising their basic right to free expression must not degrade values held by others, as this risks turning the conflict into violence.

Meanwhile 14 law scholars from the famously conservative Chulalongkorn University issued a similar statement, supporting the right of students to rally on campus after administrators denied permission for a protest yesterday. Students defied the ban and went ahead with the rally.

In the past few days, large numbers of academics and civil groups have spoken out in support of student political activities, fearing a violent backlash from state authorities and government supporters after students proposed reforming the Monarchy, a highly taboo topic in Thailand. The opposition Pheu Thai Party assigned one of its MPs to offer assistance and bail to arrested protesters.

Chaturon Chaisang, a former member of the disbanded Thai Raksa Chat Party and a prominent politician, slammed the PM Prayut Chan-o-cha after police arrested student leader Parit. In a nationally televised speech on Thursday, Prayut called for national unity and said the future belongs to the new generation.

“Prayut said he would listen to those who have different opinions from him, but today Penguin was arrested, which shows that Prayut cannot be trusted.”

SOURCE: Nation Thailand

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