Opinion: Cinemas or civil battlefields?

Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-ocha’s comments to students at the National Defense College on Thursday have turned movie theaters into possible civil battlefields.

The premier said he was worried that royalists who choose to stand up for the royal anthem are currently afraid to do so.

He told the line of cadets that they should be “brave enough” to stand for the anthem.

But it’s as if he has been living in an opposite world.

So far, there have been no incidents reported where someone has been abused for standing up to show their respect for the royal institution.

However, there are multiple cases where moviegoers who refused to stand were harassed and even faced violence.

One of the worst cases on record was when Chotisak Onsoong and his friend were threatened with lese-majeste charges for refusing to stand up in 2012.

Later the public prosecutor decided to drop the case against them because refusing to stand and asking, “Why is it necessary to stand up when it is not required by law?” does not constitute insults towards the monarchy. 

However, the reason why 112 was hungover Chotisak’s head is because he was verbally and physically attacked by a woman named Navamintr Witthayakul in the theater that day. Surprisingly, it was actually Chotsak who decided to call the police.

But instead of pursuing a case against her, the police decided to follow up the lese-majeste complaint that Navamintr made against him.

There is no law which states that sitting down during the royal anthem is illegal. But there are laws against attacking people. Yet in this case, the police somehow decided to ignore the assault completely.

Chotisak’s case led to a campaign that questioned why standing in the theater was ever necessary. It caused a public stir after so many people were outraged over the whole 112 ordeal.

It led to a campaign that Chotisak personally started around the time he was arrested, and another one called “Not Stand at Major Cineplex” that was launched by activists in 2019 to support those who feel it’s their right to not stand up during the anthem.

Yet after the event, there were even more cases where people were harassed for not standing up. In September 2019, a young girl was asked to either stand up or leave the theater by an employee at a cinema. It led to a viral hashtag #BanMajor campaign.

But, Prayut somehow never heard this side of the story. In his world, the royalists are being harassed.

And by asking cadets to be “brave enough” to stand for the royal anthem, he inadvertently highlighted what the Thai mainstream media has been ignoring which is this; a lot more people are no longer standing up for the anthem. And that’s OK.

In a civilized society, no one should be afraid of being harassed and attacked for thinking differently.

Ultimately, there is no law that says that it’s illegal to sit down during the anthem. So naturally, people should not be forced out of cinemas or attacked for choosing to do so.

What Prayut did with his comments turned peaceful theaters where children and adults go to be entertained, into possible confrontation zones.

To avoid this pitiful fiasco in the future, maybe the royal anthem should no longer be played in cinemas at all.

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