Opinion: The government may jail Francis but we are all Francis now

I only just met Francis [Bunkueanun Paothong], we joined together in some events on the afternoon of August 14. Now he is facing life imprisonment for holding a microphone and telling the masses to calm down.

I don’t have to know Francis too well though to understand everything about his character on Wednesday afternoon. At a time when tensions were high, Francis tried to calm the protesters down and get them way from the motorcade. He was never rude, never angry, never threatening. Although his ideals are there for the world to see, he clearly adheres to the principals of the nonviolent movement.

And now he is facing a lifetime in jail.

Francis considered himself a reformer, he believed in a step-by-step move towards change. Francis, of any of the protests-leaders I know, advocated for patience because the arc of history was on our side. Francis, like other protesters, advocated not violence or radical change overnight but the ability for everyone to speak their mind, for everyone to be able to have a place in society no matter your opinions.

And now he is facing a lifetime in jail.

The arrest of Francis shows that the Thai state is extremely afraid of the protesters. And the capture of people like Francis shows that the state is hostile to people who call for peaceful reforms. Prayut Chan-ocha said that this is a democracy. It is not, it is an authoritarian state hell-bent on preserving the past.

The arrest of Francis, Ekachai, and others was to find a scapegoat, to once again place blame on the students. This game plan has been used before and yet the conservative supporters still lap it up, oblivious to the lessons of history.

The problem for the Thai state is that there is not only one Francis. There are thousands of him, out there everyday fighting for a freer, fairer society not run by guns and corruption.

Arrest one Francis and five more will spring up in his place. Just look at what happened at Rajprasong on Thursday. Look at what’s been happening in Hong Kong, in Taiwan, in the Philippines. The free people of the world are uniting and joined together by our common fight.

Francis may be facing a lifetime in jail but he has created an idea and ideas cannot be jailed.

We are all Francis, now.

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