Students from Kasetsart University and the Mahanakorn for Democracy group organized a Harry Potter-themed protest on Monday (3 August) at the Democracy Monument, calling for amendments to laws regarding the power of the monarchy and for the authorities to listen to the voice of the people.
The crowd in front of McDonoald's during Thatchapong Kaedam's speech
A framed picture of series villain Lord Voldemort, most often called "you-know-who," was affixed to a scarecrow at the protest.
The organizers, as well as several participants, were seen wearing costumes from the Harry Potter series and carrying replicas of wands from the series or chopsticks handed out by the organizers. During the event, which took place between 18.00 – 20.30 on the footpath in front of McDonald’s, protestors were also invited to cast the “expecto patronum” patronus spell in a symbolic action bestowing protection upon Thai democracy and chasing away “dark powers.”
Thatchapong Kaedam, one of the speakers at the event, said that the Harry Potter series is a story of the fight between light and darkness, with the light being young people and their teachers, and that the hardest thing to fight is you-know-who’s network, which has extended to cover everything, claiming national reform, while the young people who are trying to fight back are prosecuted and subjected to witch hunts.
“I want everyone to think of Wanchalearm’s smile,” said Thatchapong before he invited participants to cast the patronus charm, described in the series as a spell that relies on the power of happiness to grant protection. “Think of the smiles of our friends who have been forced into exile overseas. Think of the smiles of our friends who think differently and are forced into becoming people to overthrow Lord Voldemort. Think of our friends’ different ideas, the smiles of our friends who were abducted and disappeared because they think differently, and point your wand into the sky.”
Two protestors seen flashing the three-finger 'Hunger Games' salute, another pop culture reference which has now become a well-recognised symbol of resistance in Thailand
The organisers also issued a statement, which was read out during the protest, stating their three demands:
- Repeal and amend laws which expand the power of the monarchy which could affect the system of government with the monarch as head of state.
- Amend the lèse-majesté law so that it is in accordance with the democratic system and does not violate human rights.
- Listen to the voices of the students and the people who have now come out to express their political opinion in order to solve the country’s problems according to democratic principles.
Protestors flashing the 'Hunger Games' salute as one of the speakers, dressed in the long black robe of a Hogswart student, is giving a speech.
Other speakers also took turn giving speeches. One speaker called for the abolition of the senate, as the current set of senators has done nothing for the people and the senate budget would be more beneficial if used to support the people. This speaker repeated two of the demands made by Free Youth Movement at the mass protest on 18 July, calling for the authorities to stop harassing people and for constitutional reform, which must involve giving the highest punishment for staging military coups in order to prevent any more coups from taking place. The speaker also said that parliament must be dissolved after the constitution has been amended and changes have been made to legislation regarding the power of the senate.
“I believe that the pure power of the people will be the light fighting against dark powers. Don’t let them threaten our friends. Don’t let them abduct and murder our friends. Hold up your three fingers and say ‘we won’t stop until the dark powers are gone’,” said the speaker.
Some of the placards seen at the protest. The second one says "“Exiles are people too. Why do you abduct them?”
The organisers also responded to criticism that the Harry Potter series should not be referenced by a demonstration calling for democracy and equality when J.K. Rowling has been criticized for expressing transphobic sentiments on social media. A representative of the organizers read out a statement at the event insisting that the organizers support the LGBT community and that they are against all forms of gender-based discrimination.
The statement also said that the organizers do not support J.K. Rowling’s transphobic attitude and actions, and that they chose to organize a Harry Potter-themed event as they saw parallels between events in the series and the current Thai political situation and that the series carries symbolism about the fight against dark, unseen powers, which is relevant.
“We organized this event to fight for our rights and freedoms and justice in Thai society. We would like to use this stage to inform everyone of our intentions in organizing this event and would like to use this space to call on everyone to join in supporting LGBT issues and the LGBT movement at the same time as supporting the democracy movement,” said the statement.
Some of the placards seen at the event. The second one says "I want someone to be beside me, but I don't want Tu", with Tu being prime minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha's nickname.
Among the placards seen at the protest were signs saying “Trans witches are witches. Trans wizards are wizards.” Other placards held by protestors say “Get rid of tax eaters”, “Exiles are people too. Why do you abduct them?” and “I am not afraid of you.”
There was also a performance by the Commoner Band, who, in addition to the few songs they usually sing at protests, also sang the modified Hamtaro theme song which has been used by protestors in several protests since the Hamtaro run on 26 July.
Protestors turning on the flashlights on their mobile phones during the Commoner Band's performance, after the singer called for a "lumos" spell, described in the series as a spell which cause a wand to light up.
The protest was joined by around 200 people. Meanwhile, around 60 – 80 uniformed police officers and a crowd control unit were present in the area, with one group standing guard around the Democracy Monument and another standing in two rows blocking protestors from leaving the footpath.
Police officers blocking protestors from leaving the footpath
This was the latest in the wave of youth-led protests which started with the mass protest organized by Free Youth Movement on 18 July, and took place at the same time as two other protests in Samut Sakhon and Sakhon Nakhon. So far, over 60 protests have taken place over two weeks in the country as well as those organized by Thai communities overseas.
A protestor appeared in front of the stage in a realistic silicone mask of deputy prime minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, flashing the 'Hunger Games' salute.
Another protestor posed for journalists. Wearing a Hogswart student costume, he pointed his wand at the Democracy Monument.
Anon Nampa calls for monarchy reform and open criticism of the crown
Human rights lawyer Anon Nampa was the last speaker to appear on the stage, wearing a black gown and a red and yellow scarf, holding a wand, and said that he was invited by the organisers to speak at the event on a topic many would like to hear but no one has spoken about formally, and insisted that, with all due respect to the monarchy, it is absolutely necessary for him to speak about the role of the monarchy in contemporary Thai politics.
Anon Numpa appeared at the event wearing a Harry Potter costume.
“We have swept this issue under the rug for many years. No one has really talked about this issue, which led to attempts to solve the problem that did not get straight to the point. We have to accept the truth that students and citizens have risen up to protest today partly because many people would like to raise questions about our monarchy,” Anon said.
Anon said that, even though placards mentioning a person who lives in Germany have been seen at recent protests, these mentions will hold no weight if we don’t talk about the issues with reason and directly according to the principles of constitutional monarchy.
The main problem, said Anon, is that today there is a process which is taking the monarchy further and further away from democracy, with certain articles in the current constitution and subsequent legislation giving the monarchy power beyond the democratic system.
He also mentioned that, following the constitutional referendum in 2016, then-NCPO leader Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha presented the draft constitution to the king, who ordered several changes to be made – something which could not happen in a constitutional monarchy, since it is considered interference with the process of drafting and implementing the constitution.
Anon then touched on the issues that resulted from King Vajiralongkorn taking residence in Germany, including the possibility that the King will have to pay taxes according to Bavarian state laws, which would come from Thai taxpayer money, and the fact that foreigners are criticising the Thai monarchy because the King lives overseas.
Additionally, he touched the issue of managing crown property and the transfer of troops to the crown.
“All of this means that we have a democratic system of government with the monarch as head of state, but the monarchy already has power beyond what is allowed by the system. This is an issue that we need to talk about seriously, and everyone must talk about it publicly and with respect to the system and to the monarchy. If we don’t talk about this issue, there is no way to solve the problem. Talking like this is not overthrowing the monarchy, but it is for the monarchy to exist in Thai society with legitimacy in accordance with the democratic system of government with the monarch as head of state,” he said.
Anon on stage during his speech
Anon proposed that parliament amend the constitution to require the king to appoint a regent while he is not in the country and to return public property to the people, as well as to make sure that the crown’s use of the national budget is accountable and can be criticized.
He also called on the crown to take action against people like Maj Gen Dr Rientong Nan-nah, who are using the crown’s name for their own benefit and to claim legitimacy in harassing other citizens.
Anon said that he believes the students who have been protesting since the start of this year know these issues very well, but no one was brave enough to speak of it directly. He hopes that from now on, we will be able to discuss these issues in public. He also called on members of parliament to speak on behalf of the people and to not let ordinary people who speak about the monarchy face harassment by themselves or let political refugees who are speaking get abducted and brutally murdered.
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“From now on, no one else who speaks about the monarchy should be accused of being mad, of being insane, or carried off to hospital even though they are speaking the truth,” said Anon.
“If anything is going to happen from me speaking the truth, whether it is threats, prosecution, or killing me, I do not regret it, because today I get to say the truth, and this truth will stay with my fellow citizens and will haunt the dictator until we get true democracy,” Anon concluded.