Worth remembering October 6 as Thai conservatives ready for battle

Student protests have broken out across Thailand for the past two weeks with demonstrators calling for the resignation of the Prayut Chan-ocha government and the tearing up of the military-drafted constitution.

The students have come in force to voice their demands for their change and air their hopes for a better future.

It is the first time in over three decades that students have come out of the campuses and onto the streets to participate politically.

But as demonstrations, hashtags, and anti-government sentiments continue to spread across the country, the military is now warning students to not disrespect the monarchy, speculating that the current protests seemed like they might be part of a “conspiracy” and influenced by a third hand.

The army chief Apirat Kongsompong said just last week that students should be aware that they are still living in Thai society and that there must still be a degree of respect.

This is not the first nor will it be the last time that Thailand’s conservative institutions and their supporters use such rhetoric against protesters.

Our darkest chapter

Perhaps most insidious was the conservative rhetoric in the build up to the Thammasat University massacre in October of 1976.

On October 6, 1976, Thai state authorities captured and opened fire on university students on the lawn of Thammasat University, officially killing 46 and injuring over 100. The real toll is likely much higher according to experts.

The students, who took to the streets and occupied Thammasat’s campus grounds, were protesting against the return of former dictator Praphas Charusathien to Thailand.

The military and ultra-royalists accused the students of spreading anti-monarchical and communist propagand and later used these reasons to surround the university.

The police, as well as paramilitary forces, blocked all exits from the university and began shooting into the campus with military weapons, such as assault rifles and machine guns.

The military, that day, were joined by vigilante mobs and anti-communist paramilitary units, who helped to shoot, beat, and lynch unarmed students.

The student leaders attempted to surrender and enter negotiations with the former prime minister, Seni Pramoj.

It is still not clear whether he had any real powers at the time but the negotiations never took place.

When one student came out with a white flag to surrender, he was shot and killed.

The legacy

Decades later and no perpetrators has ever been brought to justice. The reason for the killings remains vague and a controversial subject to talk about in Thailand. 

But historians agree that the lead up to the massacre and lynchings involved consistent and steady propaganda from Thailand’s conservative institutions over the anti-establishment leanings of the students and their communist tendencies.

Once again, those institutions are making the same noises and boisterously sharing the same accusations.

It is almost as if the government, its supporters and the conservative elements of Thai society want a repeat of 1976.

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