On September 1, 2020, police arrested prominent Thammasat University student leader Jutatip Sirikhan in apparent retaliation for her participation in a nationwide student protest movement.
Jutatip is the leader of the Free Youth Movement, an organization composed primarily of students and young people that has organized nationwide protests starting on July 18, 2020, and former president of the Student Union of Thailand. Plainclothes police officers reportedly arrested Jutatip while she was in a taxi on her way to class. Police had obtained a warrant for Jutatip’s arrest based on her participation in a “Free Youth” rally on July 18. The rally was attended by more than a thousand peaceful protestors demanding the dissolution of parliament, a new constitution, and an end to the harassment of government critics. A growing number of students and activists have been summoned or arrested in connection with the July 18 rally.
Authorities charged Jutatip with “breaching internal security and coronavirus regulations” and “sedition.” Later that day, the Bangkok Criminal Court ordered Jutatip’s release on the condition that she refrain from engaging in the alleged offenses for which she was arrested. After exiting the courthouse, Jutatip held a press conference during which she poured white paint over herself while holding up three fingers, a salute that came out of the popular Hunger Games film series and that has been used widely during the pro-democracy demonstrations. Jutatip told reporters that the white paint was to signify “purity and justice.”
As of this report, authorities have not publicly disclosed when Jutatip is expected for a trial, if at all.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest of a student in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Thailand is a party. State authorities have an obligation to refrain from restricting expressive activity, so long as it is nonviolent and responsible. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, detentions intended to restrict nonviolent expressive activity undermines academic freedom, and democratic society generally.