On Monday, March 2, a week after the “CU Assemble” protest at Chulalongkorn University, a video of students attempting to raise a black flag was released in a Facebook post.
The video and the news around it circulated quickly on social media and with it came the hate comments. In the released video, which made its way to many Thai media outlets, a particular student stood out. She was seen screaming, trying to raise the black flag.
That student was me.
The incident on the video came on the day of the protest. It was a little after 6 pm, where the Thai national anthem is played at public and government sites throughout the country.
On that day, the CU protests were getting underway at around the same time.
I was, in fact, one of the students that helped to organize the protest. Contrary to what people are saying on social media, there was never a point where we disrespected the flag. In fact, I told the protesters that we have to stand at attention once the national anthem came on.
We waited until the national anthem was over. A security guard of the university pulled down the Thai national flag and removed it as usual. The national flag would be brought back and raised again at 8 am the next day. The flagpole was left without any flag. We then proceeded to raise our black flag up, at half-mast.
According to our plan, the MC at the protest would see the black flag and he would tell the protestors the meaning of our symbolic expression. What we were trying to convey was that by raising a black flag at half-mast, we were mourning for the justice system in Thailand. This was similar to the popular uprising of 14 October 1973, when a group of students raised a black flag at half-mast at Thammasat University. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as we had expected.
Once we had raised the flag, we headed back to where the protest was happening. However, as soon as I realized that the black flag was gone, I ran back to the flagpole.
There, I encountered two men from the administration and a few security guards from the university. The black flag was with a security guard. I asked for the flag back and tried to tie it with the flagpole’s rope. When I was tying the flag, a security guard ran after me and forcefully pulled it out of my hands.
Alone and panicking, I screamed for help. That was the beginning of the released video. After my friends heard me screaming, they came back. A friend who had helped me hoist the flag up was also using his body to shield me against the security guards. Another friend was recording the incident, in case anything violent happened. Meanwhile, a security guard was also using his phone to record a video. There was an exchange of words. After my attempt to raise the flag failed, I returned to the protest.
The released video was the one taken by the university’s security guard. As to how the video came into the hands of the first person who posted it, I have no idea. The post was, however, intended to attack me.
It led people to believe that I had removed the national flag myself. People shared it with various groups. It was circulated until it reached many media outlets. There were posts and comments saying that I hate my nation because they believed I removed the national flag. Some said that I should have hung myself on the flagpole. Some criticized my appearance, saying that because I dyed my hair blonde I looked like a slut. Some said I screamed as if I were being gang-raped. Some said that if it weren’t illegal, they would kill me.
I had to temporarily deactivate my social media accounts. In real life, I had to cover my face and my hair. I live in fear because of the hatred I received online. Some people even dug up my personal information and posted it. I may also face disciplinary action from my university.
The news may die down soon, but I no longer feel safe.
Many Thai activists have faced the same issues that I am facing. Online harassment and witch-hunting is no stranger to us. For me, this is a nightmare that has not yet ended.
Sirin Mungcharoen is 2nd Vice President on the Student Council of Chulalongkorn University