There were several protest marches on Saturday, but the main rallies were organized by a new faction of the student-led anti-government movement that calls itself REDEM – short for Restart Democracy – whose last demonstrations on February 28 ended in chaos amid violence.
REDEM is an offshoot of a group called Free Youth that, in addition to the movement’s core demands from last year, its stated goals are to build democratic socialism and reduce political and economic inequality.
At the February 28 protest, violence erupted when protesters attempted to force their way across police lines to a military base. 23 policemen and 10 protesters were injured, and a 41-year-old police officer died of a heart attack.
Saturday’s protest was fraught with the risk of provocation, as organizers asked people to prepare to burn “trash” in front of the court to symbolize how rotten they were as they said about Thailand.
Protesters outside the court chanted slogans demanding the freedom of their leaders and burned trash as promised. There were no violent confrontations, but the WeVo group, which provides security to protesters, said more than 30 of its members were arrested while gathering nearby. It was not immediately known what charge they are accused of.
The protest movement lost its momentum when it was halted in December and January as Thailand was hit by a second wave of coronavirus infections. It is now trying to revitalize itself but has faced obstacles due to the recent imprisonment of some of its leaders who are awaiting trial on several charges, including defaming the monarchy.
According to Thai Human Rights Lawyers, at least 382 people, including 13 minors, received criminal charges for joining the protests and expressing their political views from July 2020 to February 2021. Of this total, at least 60 were charged. Belonging to the royal self, or denigrating the monarchy, which is punishable by imprisonment of up to 15 years.
Criticisms of the monarchy are largely controversial, because the establishment was widely considered an essential and untouchable element of Thai nationalism.
On February 9, prosecutors formally charged four of the protest leaders with violating the Royal Self-Defect Act for the first time since police began making arrests under the law last November. The four were refused bail.
More than 3,000 police were mobilized to confront the demonstrators on Saturday, and the authorities placed shipping containers to prevent access to a military base and parked a truck of water hoses next to the criminal court, which placed a protective net in front of it.
On Friday, a government order banned gatherings in the greater Bangkok area without official approval. Violations are punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of up to 40,000 baht ($ 1,310).
Other gatherings on Saturday, including one organized by supporters of the monarchy, passed without incident.
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