On October 15, 2020, police reportedly arrested Thammasat University student leaders Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul and Nathchanon Pairoj in apparent retaliation for her participation in a nationwide student protest movement.
Starting on July 18, 2020, students and other young people organized nationwide protests throughout Thailand, demanding democratic reforms including the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his cabinet, the drafting of a new constitution based on the will of the people, and ending repression of dissidents. The protests have been largely peaceful; however, police have reportedly arrested a growing number of students for their participation in them.
Panusaya is the spokesperson for the Student Union of Thailand, and a student leader of the nationwide protest movement. On August 10, on Thammasat University’s Rangsit campus, she read a declaration and list of demands for democratic reform on behalf of a new group known as the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration.
On October 15, as nationwide protests continued, plainclothes police entered a hotel room where Panusaya and Nathchanon were staying, read a list of charges to them, and presented them with an arrest warrant, which Panusaya tore up. Police then forcibly brought Panusaya and Nathchanon out of the hotel in wheelchairs, and took them to Border Patrol Police Region 1 headquarters.
Panusaya was charged with “sedition,” while Nathchanon was charged with “violating the Emergency Decree” limiting public gatherings. A court reportedly denied bail to both Panusaya and Nathchanon. Panusaya has reportedly since been transferred to the Central Women’s Correctional Institution, where she remains as of this report. Authorities have not publicly disclosed Nathchanon’s whereabouts.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest of students 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 undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.