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The Thammasat University Student Council has awarded the 2021 Jarupong Thongsin Award to student activist and protest leader Parit Chiwarak to honour his role in the 2020 – 2021 pro-democracy movement.

Sureerat Chiwarak accepting flowers on behalf of her son, Parit Chiwarak, who is still in detention. 

The award was named after Jarupong Thongsin, a Thammasat University student who was killed during the 6 October 1976 Thammasat University Massacre, and honours those who fight for democracy. Jarupong was last seen on the morning of 6 October 1976 running towards the Faculty of Law building to help other injured students, after going to warn students still remaining in the Student Activities building and telling them to run. He was also said to have stayed behind to make sure that everyone had left.

In 2020, the award was given to human rights lawyer and activist Anon Nampa and student activist Panupong Jadnok, both of whom are leading figures in the 2020 – 2021 pro-democracy movement.

On Monday (20 September), Parit’s mother Sureerat Chiwarak accepted the award on behalf of her son, who is still in pre-trial detention, at an event at Thammasat University’s Tha Prachan campus.

She also read out a speech Parit had written in prison, which said that he is very honoured to receive the award, as Jarupong Thongsin was not only a fellow Thammasat student but also one of those who gave up their lives for democracy. However, while the award is a great honour, Parit wrote that it is also depressing that the award is still being given, since it shows that there are people who still have to make sacrifices and who face danger in their fight for democracy.

“This might be a sacrifice of freedom for ideology,” Parit wrote of his detention, “but on the other side, it is cruelty by the Thai state to imprison someone in a tiny cell simply because they think and believe differently from what the state orders.

“Not only that, imprisoning an ordinary person who only has their own words, thoughts, and beliefs is a symptom which shows that our country’s democracy has been infected with the disease of dictatorship until it is severely weakened and fragile. It is so fragile that it cannot tolerate people who speak the truth, and has to treat them like commoners, slaves, offenders.”

Parit is currently being detained pending trial on charges relating to the 19 September 2020 protest at Sanam Luang. The Criminal Court revoked his bail following a request from the public prosecutor, and as a result, Parit was not released even after he was granted bail  relating to a protest in front of the Border Patrol Police Region 1 headquarters on 2 August 2021 to demand the release of 32 detained activists. He has been in detention since 8 August 2021.

Parit was previously detained pending trial on a royal defamation charge under Section 112 of the Criminal Code for speeches given at the 19 September 2020 protest. He was detained for 92 days before being granted bail and released on 11 May 2021.

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), Parit is facing at least 20 charges under Section 112.

Meanwhile, his mother has received at least 2 police summonses for violation of the Emergency Decree, reportedly for attending recent protests.

Sureerat has been active since the beginning of 2021 in the campaign for the release of activists detained pending trial, after her son was denied bail and detained in February 2021 along with 9 other activists. She became known, along with the mothers of other detained activists who spoke out to demand their children’s release, as the “Ratsamom,” a combination of “Ratsadon,” which means “people,” and “mom.”

Parit wrote that democracy comes in many forms, but what all of them have in common is acceptance and tolerance of other people’s ideas, and that democratic countries all uphold freedom of expression and assembly. He then called for those who dream of a country without violence to protect freedom of thought, beginning with freeing those who are imprisoned for their ideas and to repeal laws which limit freedom of expression and political movement.

“I sincerely hope that my acceptance of the Jarupong Thongsin award today will help to push Thailand towards the day where there will be no other Jarupong Thongsin,” Parit wrote.

The event was part of the memorial events for the 45th anniversary of the Thammasat University Massacre, which have been planned for 5 – 6 October 2021.  TLHR lawyer and former president of the Thammasat University Student Union Kritsadang Nutcharat said that the organizers planned to record parts of the events and will be organizing a socially distanced event on campus on 6 October 2021.

However, Kritsadang said that the university administration has refused to let them use campus space, even though a memorial event has been held at the Tha Prachan campus every year. He disagreed with this and protested by refusing to record his keynote speech.

Kritsadang said that he personally insists on organizing a memorial event on campus and that they will be meeting with the university administration again to get permission.

“The 6 October event is not about making an impression, or about who’s speaking, or placing wreaths, because it’s already happened. It’s just that we’re calling for people to remember and bring the perpetrators to justice,” Kritsadang said.

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