Secondary school students in Thailand‘s capital rallied Saturday for educational and political reforms, defying government threats to crack down with legal action against the country’s high-profile protest movement.
The rally was called by a group that calls itself Bad Students, mocking their status as rebels against traditional school rules and authorities.
Reflecting their light touch toward protest actions, they used props including people in dinosaur suits and oversize beach balls standing in for asteroids.
Just as an asteroid hitting the earth is believed to have led to the extinction of the dinosaurs, they pointed out, the old-fashioned members of Thailand’s establishment impeding change will face a collision with the country’s pro-democracy movement.
Though the original goals of the Bad Students included abolishing outmoded regulations such as dress codes and reforming antiquated curriculums, they now also support the demands of Thailand’s broader pro-democracy movement, which seeks major political change.
Saturday’s rally, held in one of Bangkok’s busiest shopping areas, attracted a crowd of at least 1,000 people, many of whom were not secondary school students.
Namfon Jaruk, a 21-year-old college student, said it was appropriate for demonstrators to discuss issues beyond education.
We are not just students. We are citizens of this country, too, she said.
Students have rights to talk politics and anything that needs to be discussed. The rally came at the end of a week with two chaotic protests held by followers of the pro-democracy movement.
On Tuesday, protesters rallied outside Parliament to urge lawmakers to pass a bill to consider sweeping changes in the constitution, including sections about the monarchy’s rights and privileges. The lawmakers agreed to consider changes, but not to sections including the monarchy.
The three core demands of the movement are that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha step down, the constitution be amended to make it more democratic, and the monarchy be reformed to be made more accountable.
The movement believes the monarchy holds too much power for a constitutional monarchy. But their challenge is fiercely opposed by royalists, who consider the royal institution an untouchable bedrock of national identity.
Efforts by Tuesday’s protesters to force their way onto the grounds of Parliament were pushed back by police using tear gas and water cannons firing a mixture that included chemical irritants. At least 55 people were hurt, including six reported to have had gunshot wounds. Police denied firing live rounds or rubber bullets.
On Wednesday, several thousand demonstrators gathered outside the national headquarters of the police in central Bangkok to protest the force used against protesters the night before.
The Wednesday rally was nonviolent, though protesters defaced the Royal Thai Police sign outside its headquarters and scrawled graffiti and chanted slogans that could be considered derogatory to King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Prime Minister Prayuth reacted by declaring that the protesters had gone too far and could now expect to be prosecuted for their illegal actions. While protest leaders have faced dozens of charges over the past few months, they have generally been freed on bail, and none have yet come to trial.
On Friday, Prayuth made clear that the government would also employ the use of Thailand’s lese majeste law, which calls for a prison term of up to 15 years for anyone who defames the king or his immediate family.