The Thai government issued arrest warrants for dozens of student protest leaders on Friday, taking several into custody, in an attempt that analysts say was aimed at decapitating the anti-government student-protest movement.
A prominent human rights lawyer and a protest leader have been arrested, police confirmed. (Read more here)
The arrests came on the same day that the largest student protest group, #FreeYouth, held a press conference to announce the next batch of protests along with its intention to expand the movement beyond student groups to a wider cross-section of Thai society. (Read more here)
According to sources inside the police, the government has made clear to the police leadership that the student movements should not be allowed to expand beyond its current size prompting the police to move against the student groups.
The source added that the government have arrested the students on a Friday as a legal loophole would allow them to be kept in jail until Monday morning.
“What they are trying to do is decapitate the movement before it goes any larger,” Thai political analyst Arun Saronchai told Thai Enquirer.
“By removing the leadership, they want to see if the students can regroup quickly or whether the momentum will die. The government can litigate all these student leaders until the end of time,” Arun said. “However, it may backfire on them and galvanize the movement even more.”
Dr Titipol Phakdeewanich, a political scientist at Ubon Ratchathani University told Thai Enquirer that fear and intimidation was a central part of the toolbox that the government had to keep the situation under the control.
Government security forces had called in representatives from Ubon University for questioning on Thursday about the student movement on campus and whether there was a seditionist movement inside the student groups.
“They wanted to know if we had a hold on our students and what kind of motivations the students had,” Titipol said by phone.
Other political science faculties including those in Thailand’s deep south corroborated Titipol’s story with security forces increasingly taking an interest in the student bodies that were becoming politically active.
“They want names, they want numbers and they want to know who is leading the protests,” said one professor at a Bangkok University who asked to not be named.
Rights groups cry foul
Friday’s arrest of the student protesters had rights groups in Thailand questioning the government’s motives and why a security law used to fight against the pandemic was being used against demonstrators.
Sunai Phasuk, a senior Thai researcher for Human Rights Watch, said that the move showed the Prayut Chan-ocha government’s “total disregard for fundamental rights.”
“We have prominent human right lawyer and we have student activists facing sedition charges for peacefully holding a political rally to demand a democratic vote and good governance, this should not be a criminal offence,” he told Thai Enquirer.
“If such peaceful actions are considered by the Thai authority to be criminally offensive, it would tell the world that Thailand is not a democratic state, it is a pariah authoritarian state to the core,” he said.