I was on my gap year during the time and studying abroad. My calls for a revolution in our education system would be challenged by the takeover of the military.
The authoritarianism inherent in the education system would only be reinforced by the coup government. Students had to memorize 12 core values that one man dictated to be at the heart of ‘Thainess.’
Charges were filed against those that rebelled. Some fled the country, some were sent to reeducation. Eating a sandwich became a crime.
It is strange to imagine but the story of my revolutionary intent and the movement that we have inspired has been so intertwined with the military’s story.
I watched the coup unfold from my gap year in India. I was 18 at the time. I felt angry and powerless.
On the first anniversary of the coup, I organized a small protest with some friends. This threatened the government enough that they sent soldiers to arrest a bunch of kids. They tried to coerce us and intimidate us at every turn. For just protesting the seizure of government, I was jailed for over 10 hours. A boy, not even 20, was jailed for protesting against the mighty Thai army.
The establishment, not just the soldiers but the teachers and the other students, used the incident to mock me. Further indication of the conservatist roots in our society.
On the second year of the coup, they passed the 2017 constitution. I was a freshman at Chulalongkorn University. I invited Joshua Wong to speak at the university to mark the anniversary. The Chinese government managed to stop him coming to Thailand. I guess authoritarian governments stick together.
I had made a vow that when I turned 21, I would refuse to get drafted. It was a small gesture but an important one in fighting the military influence in our society.
This was the second year of my university, the third year of the coup. The universities had become devoid of political activity. Many students openly despised politics. I decided that I could do something by running for the head of the student council at my university. Despite winning, I was quickly terminated.
The prime minister felt it necessary to attack a student leader for questioning the status quo.
It was because I was removed from my position that allowed me to establish the Sam Nak Nisit Sam Yan Press. A group of friends and myself began working on translating pieces that question authoritarianism and comparing different dictators. We looked also at how their rule was overthrown. We looked at the work of Havel, Sharp and Liu Xiabo.
What little income we made on translating these books, we used to organize and protest in our 4th year of university.
By that time, the junta still had not kept its promises to hold quick elections. We established a group to remind them of their promise.
Of course, we were arrested. I was threatened with seven years in prison.
It is a strange feeling to miss class to go to court where one is charged with sedition. During this time, I was asked to speak at the Oslo Freedom Forum in Norway. During the time I was abroad, the junta charged me with another crime for an event I did not even participate in.
This is the sixth year since prime minister Prayut has come into power. The elections were held without any transparency and with a flawed constitution. Thai citizens are more aware now, Thai students are more aware now and we know we cannot let the situation go on. The military’s involvement in politics must come to an end.
Unlike the military, we know that we’re fighting on the right side of history, fighting for representation and inclusion. It is a matter of time, but we will succeed in the end.