Long before Facebook and Twitter, long before cable and satellite news, the Royal Thai Armed Forces cracked down on student demonstrators officially killing dozens of them with hundreds more reported ‘missing.’
The killing of students happened twice, once in 1973 and once again in 1976. In both instances, the students were protesting against a military dictator. In both instances, the world barely noticed as it happened.
Since then, the military has killed its own civilians on the streets of Bangkok twice more.
In 1992, the military massacre of middle-class protesters was a brief news item in cable news around the world. The protesters were rallying against a military coup. The military did not like that and used live ammunition on the protesters killing scores with dozens more reported ‘missing.’
In 2010, red shirt protesters shut down the capital to call for fresh elections and to call for an end to military intervention in politics. The government of Abhisit Vejjajiva ordered the military to move in. There were casualties on both sides.
However, with the rise of modern technology and social media, each killing was recorded and broadcasted. Officially over 90 people died on the streets of Bangkok, only this time there was no missing.
Today, students have once again taken to the streets of Bangkok to demand the removal of military influence from politics. The students today have taken a much bolder stand than the protesters of yesteryear not only calling for an end to the coup-cycle which has dominated the country’s politics but called into question the involvement of Thailand’s sacred institutions as well.
Do we expect the outcome to be any different from the crackdowns on previous large scale demonstrations? We hope so but we do fear the worse.
There are already signs that the government is resorting to its familiar back of tricks. Student-leaders have been arrested by the military, charged with sedition and lese-majeste, while others have been called into police stations and government installations without warrants and told to sign a waiver saying they will not protest.
Student leaders have reported instances of being followed by men or groups of men at their place of study or place of work.
The state has reverted into its cold-war mentality, the army chief has even come out to say that the opposition and the students are communists (and we know how the army deals with communists historically).
Therefore it is imperative that the world keeps its eye on the events in Thailand, it is imperative that the world’s media stay focused on the conduct of the state.
Even if there is a crackdown, do not avert your eyes less we find hundreds more students ‘missing,’ disappeared by the state.
The Rubicon has been crossed, issues which have not previously been addressed by students are now in the forefront and in the public sphere. The pendulum has swung one way, there will be attempts to swing it back. Keep the safety and well being of peaceful students protesting for democracy at the forefront of your mind.