Thirty university students from half a dozen universities constitute the sole remaining visible and public opponents to the military junta. Two key members say they will oppose the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) until the last man standing.
“It is like the Battle of the Alamo,” said Than Rittphan, 22, a fifth year civil engineering at one university, comparing the situation to the famous battle in Texas in 1836 between defiant Texan fighters and Mexican troops.
The reality is that 11 out of the 30 students were forced to sign an ‘agreement’ with the NCPO not to join, aid or lead future anti-coup protests late last month after they were arrested for trying to launch an anti-coup sandwich-eating protest at a major shopping mall. Some have since been followed and monitored by the army.
Already, just over a month since the coup on May 22, the group known as the Thai Student Centre for Democracy (TSCD) seems like veteran democracy activists. They have been “invited” to meet with the junta three times and have set up a Twitter account at @TSCD_EN which has tweeted mostly in English, spreading anti-coup sentiments beyond Thailand.
“Soldiers must fight for liberty not for slavery, privilege and tyranny,” read one of their tweets on Tuesday afternoon.
As university students still dependent on their parents for financial support, the NCPO has pressured families of the students to dissuade them from political activism.
Chutidej Sumrej, 21, a social studies student at a well-known university in Bangkok, said it didn’t work as his parents had informed the junta that they have no control over their son’s conscience. They also pointed out that he was no longer a minor.
During their three ‘meetings’ with senior members of the military junta, it became apparent to the students that they were causing a deal of discomfiture to the new rulers of Thailand. It is thought that the activists’ privileged status as students has prevented the junta from taking them to martial court. Still, there is little doubt that they are looked upon unfavourably by the establishment.
“One major-general told me that I am like dust. But why are they afraid of us? Perhaps they’re afraid that we will ignite [anti-coup passion] amongst the public,” said Chutidej, sitting at a cafe at Siam Paragon Shopping Mall, which has become one of the major anti-coup activity grounds. “It was a mistake for them to have arrested nine of us the other Sunday,” he said, adding that all of the students are ready to face arrest by the junta.
“I don’t think the coup is legitimate,” Than interjected. He added that he felt that the military leadership harbours a superiority complex and a sense of mission. “It’s like a white man’s burden to them,” said Than. “They think they have knowledge and morality. They cite Sarit’s regime,” he said, in reference to 1960s strongman Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat who ruled by decree until his death and whose portrait adorned the room where Than met the generals.
“They summoned us to have us hypnotised but it didn’t work,” added Than, who professes to a degree of amusement about the experience.
Chutidej added that the same major-general also asked him if he thought those who don’t pay tax should have the right to vote. Chutidej chose not to answer, concerned that the atmosphere could quickly deteriorate. But the meetings did not alter the two students’ view of the situation; they only served to strengthen their resolve.
They say that the officers they met believed that fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra must fund the students.
Than predicts that the crackdown will escalate as there’s no trust on either side. Yet both, along with four other students, continue to take risks and were at the US Embassy on Tuesday morning to stage another anti-coup sandwich-eating protest, this time armed with George Orwell’s famous anti-authoritarian novel 1984.