February 19, 2014 00:00 By HATAIKARN TREESUWAN
THE PEOPLE'S Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) led by Suthep Thaugsuban has been able to keep its anti-government protests going for more than 100 days in part by preparing a careful communications strategy.
While PDRC strategists have used social media via smartphones as a vital tool for mobilising the demonstrators, committee leaders have relied on 2G prepaid cell phones to make contact with members to manage both its many rally stages and its rapid-deployment protest teams. When the protest campaign kicked off, PDRC core leader Satit Wongnongtaey distributed Samsung 2G phones with new numbers among protest leaders, according to a source in the PDRC leadership. Using the dedicated PDRC phone numbers kept their calls private and safe. Only invited members were able to communicate via these phones, the source said. “If we receive a call from a stranger, we throw away the SIM cards and take new numbers for the group right away,” the source said. The source added that on some occasions, PDRC leaders gave secret cell-phone numbers to non-members carelessly. When this happened, Satit would order that new SIM cards be purchased. He has done this more than five times. PDRC core leader Somsak Kosaisuk said the protest leaders were given individual cell-phone numbers and had to carefully monitor whether their calls were being tapped. “A friend who works for CAT Telecom told me that he once listened to one of my mobile-phone conversations. “It is easy to tap a cell-phone using spy software or equipment to record a conversation. We had to keep our plans secret to save our lives,” he said. Many committee leaders avoid using smartphones, as officials would know where to find them if their phones were activated, the PDRC source said. However, PDRC leaders who are former Democrat MPs cannot afford to lose contact with their main supporters, or reporters. So they keep their old cell-phone numbers, even if it means being disturbed by the pro-government side sometimes, PDRC spokesman Akanat Promphan said.
Akanat showed some messages he had received on his iPhone, including threatens and hate speech. “I don’t know who gave my phone number to these people. All I can do is chill out,” he said.