On Saturday (31 October), activists held a memorial for Nuamthong Praiwan, a taxi driver who intentionally crashed his vehicle into a tank and later committed suicide to protest the 2006 military coup. The event was held at the overpass where he hung himself.
The memorial at the overpass where Nuamthong was found
On 31 October 2006, Nuamthong was found hanging in front of the Thairath newspaper office on Vibhavadi Road. He killed himself after Akkara Thiproj, a deputy spokesperson for the military junta, expressed scepticism about his intentions by asserting that “nobody’s ideals are so great that they would sacrifice their lives for them."
Last Saturday afternoon, former Red Shirt leaders, activists, and members of the public gathered at the overpass to place flowers and hold a merit-making ceremony.
United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) representative Thida Thavornseth gave a speech declaring that Nuamthong was the first commoner hero to fight against a dictatorship at a time when intellectuals and members of the upper-class supported the coup.
“Uncle Nuamthong Praiwan is the first true hero of democracy. We have come together here so that the younger generation can join with us in remembering him, so that he can serve as an example for the next generation about making sacrifices to prove that the people want democracy and are willing to risk their lives to get it,” Thida said.
“At the same time, we want to tell the army, the conservatives, and the authoritarians that they must not look down on the people, that there actually are people who want democracy and are prepared to die for it. This should be remembered, not just today but every day.”
Former Pheu Thai MP and UDD leader Weng Tojirakarn called on political parties to accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICCU) and back a publicly-proposed draft constitutional amendment to prevent future coups.
Pannika Wanich, former Future Forward Party (FFP) MP and Progressive Movement executive board member, said that prior its dissolution, the FFP had plans to promote the acceptance of ICC jurisdiction, so that state violence against the Thai public would at least be prosecuted overseas, if not by a national court.
She added that today, young people who share Nuamthong’s dream of living in a country with no more military coups are being imprisoned, while those who have committed crimes against the people remain in power.
“Today is still their day, but this country belongs to us, the people, and one day when we win, those who harm the people, the owners this country, will be going to jail, and the future will be ours,” Pannika said. “Let’s follow Uncle Nuamthong’s dream. Let’s do it together. Nothing can impede the power of the people.”
We Volunteer hung a banner from the overpass
At 16.00, another memorial service was held at the same location by young activists from several groups, We Volunteer, Thalufah, and the Feminist’s Liberation Front Thailand, who also brought flowers in Nuamthong’s memory.
Before the event, We Volunteer members hung a banner with Nuamthong’s picture from the overpass. Police officers arrived and told them to take the banner down but they refused, saying that they would take the banner down after the event was over.
Panadda Sirimasakul, an activist from the Thalufah group, read a poem in Nuamthong’s memory, describing him as a common man who used everything, including his own life, to fight against a military coup. She also asserted that, although the movement to secure freedom and end military coups is still unfinished after 15 years, Thailand has already changed and will never be the same again.
A young activist gave a speech at the memorial
Another Thalufah activist noted that Nuamthong was a hero who fought for democracy, and added that the younger generation, those joining the pro-democracy movement, have taken up his goal.
“Every person should know that a true hero is not a general with stars on his shoulders who looks down on people prepared to risk their lives by fighting against a military coup and injustice. In his final letter, Nuamthong wrote ‘I hope that there won’t be a coup in my next life,’ but 15 years has passed and there are still coups in this country. It is sad and something to be angry about,” said the activist, while adding that “even though Uncle Nuamthong is gone, his ideals are alive and will fight along with us until the day when we will not have to face another coup.”
CMU students wearing masks of Nuamthong's face
At Chiang Mai University, students also organised a memorial event to mark the 15th anniversary of Nuamthong’s death, wrapping themselves in white cloths, wearing masks with Nuamthong’s face, and marching around campus after dark.
In Lamphun, at a “car mob” protest on Saturday evening to demand the repeal of the royal defamation law, or Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code, a protester stated that they were staging the event on the anniversary of Nuamthong’s death as a reminder that people are willing to die for democracy to encourage those currently taking part in the pro-democracy movement to keep going.