Some students ‘bullied’ into joining protests, says Thai PM

BANGKOK • Thai Prime Minister (PM) Prayuth Chan-o-cha said not all participants in recent anti-government protests went voluntarily, with some facing peer pressure and social penalties if they didn’t join.

Several student-led demonstrations have been held over the past few weeks, with more planned almost daily across Thailand. They demand an end to the military-led administration and call for the monarchy’s powers to be reined in. The biggest protest so far saw more than 10,000 people rally at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok on Sunday.

“I heard from some students that if they don’t participate in the events, they won’t be allowed to join groups or activities,” Prayuth said at a briefing yesterday. “Some didn’t want to participate, but they were bullied.”

Prayuth is a former general who took power in a coup in 2014 and was elected in a national vote in March 2019 that’s been criticised as unfair. He said he’s not against rewriting parts of the constitution, noting the government was looking into the possible amendment of the charter that was drafted by the junta ahead of last year’s election.

Several protest leaders have been arrested on charges that include sedition, but were later released on bail. Three-finger salutes, similar to defiance signals in the movie “The Hunger Games,” were popular as the student-led groups called for dissolution of Parliament, the end of threats on civil liberties and a new constitution.

The protests are also breaking deeply entrenched taboos in Thailand, where openly criticising the monarchy can lead to long jail sentences and worse. — Bloomberg