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Analyst: Student arrests bode well for Thai future

Academic says arrests show that new generation preparing to challenge education system based on blind worship of seniors

Analyst: Student arrests bode well for Thai future

By Max Constant


A Thai political analyst has championed the 14 students arrested for staging a protest against the military coup last week, saying the fact that people are daring to challenge such powerful authority figures shows bodes well for the country's future.

Sulak Sivaraksa, a prominent Thai intellectual and Buddhist scholar, claimed in an interview Tuesday with Anadolu Agency that a major problem holding the country's civil society groups back has been the country's strict adherence to an education system based on the blind worship of seniors.

“These students are challenging that concept... They don’t care for big names. They say: ‘we want to be ourselves’," he told Anadlolu Agency on Tuesday.

On June 26, the students -- 13 males and one female, all members of an informal group named “Neo-democracy Movement” -- were arrested on charges of sedition and violating the junta's ban on political gatherings for leading a peaceful anti-coup rally in Bangkok.

They had refused to be released on bail, saying such a move would be equivalent to recognizing the legitimacy of the military government.

Despite being released from custody Tuesday, they face seven years in jail for organizing a series of protests aimed at defying a military ban on political gatherings and calling for junta chief-cum-Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to step down from power.

Hours before their release, Sivaraksa told Anadolu Agency of “divisions among junta members on the students’ case.”

“Some say they should be let free, so that it stops the beginning of something bad, but some others are willing to punish them,” he said.

Sivaraksa - who gave refuge to the students at his office before they were arrested - underlined that one of the largest massacres of civilians in Thai history, the Oct. 14, 1973 popular uprising, had been triggered by the arrest of several students.

Sivaraksa is no friend of dictatorships, having been arrested several times for criticizing juntas since the 1950s.

The 82-year-old spent a brief stint in jail in the 1980s after being charged with lese-majeste – a crime liable to a jail term from 3 to 15 years – and had to flee the country in fear of his life after a coup in 1991 because he had criticized then military ruler, General Suchinda Kraprayoon.

Beyond the country's cycle of coups – 12 since the abolition of the absolute monarchy in 1932 - Sivaraksa underlines what he refers to as "the main challenge Thailand faces."

The country has an inability to “confront the truth” because of the massive brain-washing operation which has been in place for decades, he claims, adding that this has been instilled through the education system and via propaganda outlets.

Sivaraksa, a British-educated scholar with expertise in Thai history and Buddhism, pinpoints article 112 of the criminal code as a key element of what he calls a “make believe system.”

The article punishes criticism of the monarchy with heavy jail terms, and has even been utilized by courts to punish perceived criticism of kings who reigned centuries ago.

“This article not only helps to stop people speaking the truth, it also helps people close to the palace to get away with economic and political exploitation as the public is unable to hold them to scrutiny for fear of the lese-majeste charge," alleges Sivaraksa.

He calls the article “dangerous for the monarchy and dangerous for the country," and claims that many royal affiliated businesses, such as the Royal Projects, are not accountable.

The projects are mostly charitable operations under the patronage of various members of royal family, from coffee growing plantations in northern hills to the promotion of weaving of traditional silk in the northeast.

They are for the most part financed on the government budget and contribute to the popularity of some members of the royal family.

Sivaraksa himself has fallen foul of the law, and is currently under investigation for casting doubt on the feats of a Siamese king who died more than 400 years ago.

According to the Bangkok Post, two retired soldiers filed a complaint against him for dishonoring King Naresuan at a seminar tilted “Thai History: the Construction and Deconstruction” on Oct. 5 at Bangkok's Thammasat University.

Sivaraksa is alleged to have cast doubt on the account of an elephant battle between Naresuan and a Burmese king, claiming it was constructed, and that the legendary Ayutthaya king was cruel.

In one of the most important events in Thai history, the King is reported to have slashed Minchit Sra to death during a battle fought on elephant back, thus leading to the surrender of the Myanmar (then Burmese) army.

In an article published in 2013 in a review by the Siam Society, renowned historian B. J. Terwiel studied various accounts of the battle and concluded that Siamese historians were likely to have embellished the narrative when writing on the elephant duel.

“I can be sent to jail anytime,” Sivaraksa says from his Bangkok home.

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