Police ratchet up surveillance; ‘harass’ student leader in Ubon Ratchathani

Hudsawat ‘Bike’ Rattanakachen, 22, a popular government critic, is the latest student protest leader to be hit with a flurry of legal charges for his political activism.

Bike is facing multiple charges from the police including the violation of the Emergency Situations Act and violation of the Communicable Disease Act.

The political science student from Ubon Ratchathani University, told Thai Enquirer that he believes the authorities are going after him based on his outspoken criticisms of Prayut Chan-ocha.

“I think the government charged me because they want to slow down the pace of our movement and make things more difficult,” Bike said about the charges, showing concern that others could also face similar allegations.

“Now we have to allocate more time towards dealing with these charges and less time on the movement, which complicates things.”

He’s facing charges for violating public assembly, violation of the communicable disease act, unlawful use of audio equipment, and breaking road traffic laws.

But Bike says it’s his political commentary online that led to him being monitored in the first place. He’s one of the most politically active students at his university. He created a Facebook group where other students can come together to express their political opinions. But it’s clearly caught the attention of the state.

“I feel like the government is starting to have more intense surveillance for activists as my rallies so far have not reached the level of others like in Bangkok and other provinces,” he said.

He explained that the government is raising the bar when it comes to suppressing regional movements like his in Ubon Ratchathani. He fears the authorities are increasing their level of surveillance.

Surveillance and control

One of Bike’s lecturers, Titipol Phakdeewanich, agrees that the state is exercising a dangerous campaign of legal harassment, one that clearly violates the rights of students.

“If you look at the situation outside of Bangkok, there are many cases that have not been reported,” Titipol says. “If Bike was not my student then I probably wouldn’t be aware of his case. And I think there are a significant number of cases like this where ordinary people, villagers, rural people, people defined by the government as opposition, have told me stories that they’ve been monitored or followed as well,” he said.

The timing of the allegations is notable as Prayut is visiting Ubon Ratchathani on Friday. Titipol feels that it’s possible that the government is getting out ahead to stop him protesting during the prime minister’s visit.

Trauma

Titipol believes that this climate of legal harassment has been ongoing for many years, particularly since the 2014 coup. It’s a way to silence critics without using physical violence.

“They also hang these cases over them indefinitely as a way to control students,” Titpol warned before explaining that this form of intimidation can be just as problematic as violence as the charges can have severe mental health ramifications. “In some sense, it’s worse, because it [legal harassment] causes long-term trauma as well,” Titipol said. “One of my students a few years ago was harassed with a 112 case, and that had a big psychological impact on him. For months he couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat.”

Bike’s court date is on Oc 18 where he’ll hear his charges in court.  But it’s unclear whether or not he’ll have to answer to all of these charges, he noted.

His case is just a drop in the bucket of a growing number of arrests. Since last year, there have been at least 1500 people arrested for protest-related incidents, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

And like so many other young activists, Bike knew that it was just a matter of time before the authorities started targeting him too.

“We all know that we live in a society where the process of law or justice in Thailand is not normal,” Bike said.  “Regardless, anyone can be accused of having a different opinion from the government’s and then it’s decided that they pose a security threat to the state. So it’s no wonder why we are being targeted.”

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