RED-SHIRT activists expect to see up to 10,000 supporters of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra at the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Political Office Holders on August 25 despite strong security measures and the government’s advice against such a gathering.
They said the supporters were expected to travel to the court by themselves and in the smallest groups possible to avoid security checks. But they maintained that they had not heard of any organised mobilisation, noting that those red-shirts at the forefront of the protest movement were under close scrutiny by the authorities.
On August 25, the Supreme Court is scheduled to deliver its verdict on Yingluck, who is charged with negligence and malfeasance for allegedly failing to prevent corruption in the implementation of her government’s flagship rice-pledging scheme.
During the course of the court trial, more and more people turned up to help boost the fomer PM’s morale. On the final hearing days and when Yingluck made her closing statement, huge crowds gathered around the court.
It took her more than half an hour to walk about 20 metres to enter the court building past the massive cheering crowd as supporters tried to hand Yingluck flowers and reach out for a handshake or a hug.
The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has toughened security measures and called on people to not show up at the court, citing security reasons.
A red-shirt leader from Ratchaburi province, Pongsak Phusitsakul, confirmed that most activists, including those at provincial level, are being watched closely by security officers.
Especially now that Yingluck’s judgement day is close, activists are being constantly visited by the authorities.
“But they never told us directly not to go. They just came for a chat, asking whether we will go and with how many people,” he said. “In a way, this kind of discourages some of us. It worries some people that maybe if we go, we will get into trouble.”
Pongsak said he believed that a large number of supporters would turn up and show their strong support for Yingluck.
“People will find a way to go, I think. There are some hurdles, such as the intimidation of drivers of the passenger vans we want to rent. So, we have to find other alternatives,” the red-shirt leader said. “And they might have to drop us a little farther from the court to avoid security officers.”
This means supporters would have to travel in smaller groups, he said, adding that organising any mass mobilisation would be nearly impossible because of all these difficulties.
Anurak Janetawanich, a Samut Prakan-based red-shirt activist who is better known as “Ford, the red path”, said that he anticipated a vast crowd at the court on August 25 – much larger than that seen earlier this month when Yingluck gave her closing statement.
“Although the NCPO has warned against this, a lot of people will still go. Ten thousand, I think, is possible,” Ford told The Nation.
“People are accustomed to all these security measures. We know their procedures and are well aware of what we can and cannot do. For example, we are not allowed to hold protest banners. We all understand that.”
Ford said that he would go alone on judgement day. Some fellow red-shirts he was in contact with would also go in small groups, he said.
“Everyone is aware of the security measures. So, mostly they will travel in a private car or may use public transportation such as the train or bus,” the activist said. “And we won’t wear red shirts, which could draw attention.”
Ford said he had not heard of any plans to organise people to travel en masse, especially since activists are under close watch and constantly visited. “Maybe there is, but not that I know of,” he said, adding it is safer for supporters to travel on their own rather than in a big group.
Weng Tojirakarn, a key leader of the umbrella red-shirt group United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, also denied that red-shirt leaders had any plan to mobilise people.
People would show up on their own to support Yingluck despite the NCPO’s warning, he said. “The forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest,” he added.