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I am sure many have noticed that Sanam Luang has been closed for more than a year, surrounding by high corrugated iron fences? The truth is coming out now. Last time I was in Thailand a few months back one could see through earth and bricks being moved by army trucks and earth moving equipment at night time moving back and forth, from south to north; activities tightly confined and controlled by the military. Rumours from people around the area were that it was being prepared as a funeral site, or a site of Black Magic while the regime was looking for hidden gold, or even a mysterious lak meuang (sacred city pillar) hidden under the grounds!

The Democracy Movement will tell you that it was to prevent any further public freedom of assembly and the right to protest (- in point of fact for all groups). A recent suggestion (see: Kaalib [กาหลิบ], “Sanam Luang Seized” [ยึดสนามหลวง, noted that it was a “coup” which has robbed the right of people to use this traditional urban public space to express their views. Sanam Luang was always an ideal site for this purpose: central, accessible by public transport from many directions, and a good size (12 Hectares) in which to hold large gatherings. The red shirts made good use of this public space for five years – up until after the crackdown 19 May 2010. It was strategically and symbolically also close to public institutions of importance, royal temples (especially Wat Phra Kaew), Grand Palace, universities, and Ministry of Defence. The king has long been using Sanam Luang for the annual High Brahman ritual “Ploughing Ceremony” (วันพืชมงคล, this year to be held 13 May, six days before the national tragedy last year).

Sanam Luang has long been a site for royal cremations and functions since the beginning of the Chakri Period. Thus, it is of no surprise that the site is taboo for expressing anti-amaat regime sentiments. The BMA boss MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra has now been able to declare the site safe from the masses and reclassified into a place of archaeological and ancient significance and that henceforth anyone caught trespassing will be fined up the one million Baht and/or imprisoned for up to 10 years. A disincentive indeed!

The increased surveillance means that 42 CCCT cameras are to be positioned around the once important “public space” to maintain an eye on red shirts. Big Brother is always watching “errant” behaviour towards the state! The poor and homeless will have to also relocate and find a park bench or piece of green or concrete space somewhere else. Sukhumbhand, a spokesperson for the amaat, said that henceforth it will not be used as a political arena. Anyway, Thais can walk through the east-west short pathway; but dare to stray outside the path will cost one dearly. This is another expression of the amaat regime eliminating constitutional/public rights of assembly, and rights to free speech.

Jim Taylor
University of Adelaide
8 May 2011

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