Renewed calls for reform met with violence . . .
Police used tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets to disperse thousands of anti-government protesters who rallied over the last few days in Bangkok to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. Protesters accused the government of mismanaging the pandemic and of silencing critics. According to police, six officers were injured, and at least six protesters were arrested for violating rules banning public gatherings under the COVID-19 emergency. The protests are the latest from a movement that began last year. On August 10, 2020, youth demonstrators unveiled a set of 10 demands, including the abolition of Thailand’s lèse-majesté law, which criminalizes defamation of the monarchy.
Government shows no signs of compromise . . .
While it appears that last year’s youth-led pro-democracy movement has regained momentum, the government continues to use force and all legal action available against its opponents. On August 8, nine activists were arrested for their participation in a protest earlier this month demanding the release of 32 other activists. More than 100 protesters have been charged under the lèse-majesté law since July last year. Critics allege that the law, which carries a sentence of three to 15 years in jail per charge, has been broadly used to stifle criticism.
COVID-19 mismanagement the new rallying point . . .
Recent demonstrations have focused on Thailand’s current COVID-19 crisis, with protesters voicing increasing fury over the government’s poor handling of the surge in the Delta variant, lack of transparency in vaccine rollouts, and the pandemic’s economic toll, especially on workers in the informal sector. Thailand logged 22,782 new cases on Thursday, a new daily record. Although calls for his resignation have mounted as cases surge to new daily highs, PM Prayut insisted last week that he would not step down. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch raised concerns that the Thai government has used the pandemic to clamp down on freedom of expression and silence critics by imposing criminal sanctions on individuals it accused of “spreading fake news” on COVID-19.