Three years has passed: How much have people gained from fighting for their rights?

 
Undeniably, the three years under the rule of the NCPO regime has been brimming with numerous civic mobilizations. In an era where people’s voices are stifled, ingenious ways have been crafted to make their voices heard. Some individuals have staged symbolic actions while others have gathered to demonstrate. Some have resorted to meager legal possibilities to fight the power that be. All their actions and their successes and/or failures have led civil society to learn, grow and adapt. 
 
Symbolic action in defiance of repressive power 
A few hours following the coup, the streets in Bangkok and large cities including Chiang Mai and Khon Kaen were filled with people expressing their civil disobedience against the NCPO. It has led to a series of arrest and charges on “political gathering”, with civilians standing for trial in both civilian and military courts.  
 
As direct protest actions have become more difficult, protestors have resorted to symbolic actions. Still, the security forces have denied them a chance to express themselves even through small-scale protests. During May – June 2014, security forces have rounded up people who have taken part in demonstrations including holding up banners, flashing three fingers, eating sandwiches and reading ‘1984’  in public places. This included people who have staged their civil disobedience by refusing to turn up as requested for by the summonses issued by the NCPO.
689 Protest again coup 24 may 2014
 
 
 
690 Abduct protester 2 June 2014
On 14 February 2015 in front of the Bangkok Arts and Cultural Center, members of the Citizen Resistant organized an activity to demand the right to election. It was an action reminiscing the last elections in 2013 which were then canceled. They were surrounded by dtwo companies of police forces and a huge number of plain-clothed officials. Though the activity could be staged, afterwards, four activists were rounded up and taken to the Pathumwan Police Station for questioning. They were later prosecuted with the Bangkok Military Court for violating the ban against a gathering of five persons or more. After the student activists were taken to the police station, it was intriguing that a large crowd has gone to the police station to demand the release of the student activists. This latter protest has set an example of several other activities that ensued 
 
691 Protest at Bangkok remand prison
 
22 May 2015 marked the first anniversary of the 22 May 2014 coup. Groups of activists converged in front of the Bangkok Arts and Cultural Center to stage a symbolic action. In the middle of their activity, uniform and plain-clothed police officials interrupted the activity and apprehended 32 activists. They were taken to the Pathumwan Police Station. Arrest warrants were issued against nine activists for violating the ban against the gathering of five persons or more and for violating the Head of the NCPO Order No. 3/2558 
 
After one year under the NCPO, direct actions against them have been much less visible perhaps due to widespread restrictions and arrests. It could be said that the NCPO has successfully tightened their grip of power and the direct force against the coup has been weakened. Instead of confronting the NCPO upfront, the people’s networks have opted to mobilize on topical issues when rights and freedoms have been flagrantly violated. An example of this is when activists mobilize to pressure the NCPO to release the individuals who had been held in custody through the invocation of a special law. This included the “Just Standing” activity to demand the release of Mr. Wattana Muangsuk, the ‘Post-It’ campaign to demand the release of the eight Facebook administrators, and the gathering in front of the military court and the Bangkok Remand Prison when members of the New Democracy Movement were brought to the court for arraignment.  
 
Opposition to the exercise of power on certain issues was still somewhat possible 
Immediately after the cabinet endorsed the Biological Safety Bill (the GMO Bill) in November 2015, it has led to public outcry and opposition from various sectors. Civic groups working with the agricultural sector, businesses and the Rural Doctors Foundation have petitioned the relevant agencies to demand the suspension of the law. They even demonstrated in front of the Government House. The demonstrations were led by new individuals, many of whom did not belong to any political factions and had never previously shown their opposition to the government. Due to the pressure, Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha called off the GMO Bill within 22 days 
 
On 17 February 2017, the Save Andaman Network and a large number of people have gathered in front of the Government House to oppose the Krabi coal-fired power plant. They feared the project would have catastrophic impacts on tourism, natural resources and the health of local populace. The authorities have used different methods to demonstrate against the project, such as by laying siege and disrupting the supply of food and drinks to demonstrators. Eventually, the state decided to apprehend core members of the group and escorted them to a military barrack. However, the number of demonstrators increased. Eventually, the government was forced to cancel the existing Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Environmental Impact Assessment (EHIA) reports. In effect, it has led to the suspension of the coal-fired power plant project.  
 
692 Protest against Gmo
 
In December 2016, more than three hundred thousand people have signed an online petition at change.org to oppose the newly revised Computer Crime Act. The campaign has been led by Thai Netizens Network since 2015 and it has spread far and wide in the virtual world. Even though the NLA has later approved the draft Computer Crime Act unanimously, the Bill was slightly watered down due to public opposition. 
 
693 Coal power plants protest
 
In 2014-2017, a number of opposition groups have expressed their sentiments publicly on certain issues, while not directly about opposing either the coup or the NCPO. Many of them have been summoned to receive attitude adjustment. This included villagers in Roi Et who demanded their land rights, the Southern Peasants Network in Surat Thani, the Don Moon Conservation Group and the Mae Sot Conservation Group opposes the Special Economic Zone project. 
 
694 Against single gateway
 
Their actions have led to their prosecution by the government. This included the demonstrators against the construction of Pak Bara Deep Sea Port, the demonstrators against a gold mine in Phichit, and the People for Energy Reform Group opposing petroleum law. There were cases that the authorities had opted for negotiation and refrained from taking them to court. 
 
Asking for a chance to examine “good governance” 
In late 2015, the media extensively reported on the alleged corruption in the construction of the Rajabhakti Park. The issue was a popular topic of discussion in the general public. The army, as the responsible agency behind the project, was heavily criticized. Discussion on the internet speculated possible fraudulent acts and those who could be involved. Meanwhile, a group of people have boarded a train ride to examine the possible corrupt practices involving the project at the project site. 40 of them were later apprehended. About a dozen of them were charged concerning the exercise of freedom of expression and conducting activity to examine transparency of the project.  
 
695
 
In February 2017, iLAW released an investigative report that exposed at least seven members of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) who were frequently absent legislative meetings. Due to their poor attendance record, these members should be disqualified as the 2014 NLA’s Meting Protocol requires that each NLA member must attend at least one third of the meetings every 90 days. Even though the NLA’s Chairperson has publicly defended the seven NLA members, claiming the members had already asked for permission to take leave before they were absent from meetings, it has alerted society and increased public scrutiny on the performance of NLA members  In addition, there have been several other cases whereby people felt they could no longer remain complacent, leaving the NCPO to exercise their power by themselves. People have become interested in searching for information and criticizing government decisions such as the decision to purchase three submarines from China, the budget of an official visit to Hawaii, the registering of a commercial company using an address located inside a military barrack and the case of Ge. Preecha Chanoi-cha.  
 
Exercising legal rights to oppose the power that be as far as possible 
On 22 May 2015, Pansak Srithep and 15 others have filed a case against Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha and 5 in alleging them of committing a seditious act by overthrowing the Constitution, overthrowing and/or nullifying the legislative power, the executive and the judicial power of the Constitution, separating the Kingdom and seizing the power of administration in any part of the Kingdom per Section 113 of the Penal Code as a result of their seizing the power through a military coup. The Lower Court refused to review the case on 29 May 2015  claiming that the accused have been exonerated per the provisions in the 2014 Interim Constitution. In February 2017, the Appeals Court, similar to the Lower Court, refused to review the case. It is now pending in the Supreme Court .
 
On 10 May 2016, iLAW and 107 people have submitted a letter of petition to the Ombudsman to demand that he file the case to the Constitutional Court so that the court to review the constitutionality of the Constitutional Referendum Act  B.E, 2559 (2016)’s Section 61 paragraph two and four (which is deemed to infringe on people’s rights and freedoms). The Constitution Court ruled unanimously that the Section was constitutional per Section 4 of the 2014 Interim Constitution and dismissed the case.  
 
696
 
On 1 March 2017, Chaturon Chaisang filed a case against the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which had earlier revoked his passport. In this case, the Administrative Court asked the authorities to reinstate his passport claiming that Chaturon had been travelling outside the country regularly and had always retuned to the country. There was no flight risk even though he is being prosecuted. The Court found that the revocation of his passport drastically affected his rights and asked the authorities to rescind the order to have the passport revoked.
  
There has been an assembling of a group of civilians who have to stand trial in the military court in at least 15 cases. They deem it improper that they have to stand trial in military court and have asked the Constitutional Court to intervene and to have the Committee to Determine Jurisdictions of the Courts to review their cases. There have been numerous examples of how judicial rights have been exercised to resist the power of the NCPO regime. In some cases, the judiciary ruled in favor of the protection of people’s rights, whereas in other cases, the judiciary have ruled otherwise. Still, there has been some precedence that could be useful in the future.  
 
697 Jon submit obusman
It could be seen that people have resorted to different mechanisms to check the exercise of power by the NCPO in the past three years. Even though it might not help to effectively contain the exercise of draconian power, it does have some effect and has led to the creation of protest movement after protest movement. People who are facing legal wrangles are demonstrating to show the public and the next generation as to how they can ready themselves to cope with the risks incurred from their struggle for own rights.  
 
As activists have learned and adapted their protest methods over the past three years, the authorities have not remained complacent and have explored new measures, legislatively and psychologically, to stifle people’s expression. To prepare and campaign for reform in the fourth year under the NCPO, we need to explore optimistic and painful experiences by all parties that have been documented in the hope that history would not repeat itself in Thailand.  
 
 
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