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  • Writer's pictureManushya Foundation

🔊#YouthSpeakDemocracy: Manushya’s Interview with Get, Activist Promoting Freedom of Speech

Last week, we presented to you our most recent project, “Youth Power Democracy,” aimed at amplifying youth voices in Thailand. Young people have not ceased to demand change in the current political situation. They are using their voices and taking action to push for reforms and improvements. With elections taking place this Sunday, we want to bring forward another young voice who is dedicated to promoting democracy, protecting human rights, and advancing equality.

Last time you met Bung, who talked about her hopes for the reform of Thailand’s monarchy and the expansion of civic space for the pro-democracy movement. Today we’re bringing you the second exclusive interview with another fearless youth activist: Sophon “Get” Suraritthamrong, founder of Mokeluang Rimnam activist group, who envisions the road to restoring democracy beyond the elections and puts forward the necessity to set in stone freedom of expression in Thailand.

Speaking about Mokeluang Rimnam’s activism ahead of the upcoming elections, Get said:

“We are spreading awareness that “election is not the finish line of democracy.” Of course, the election is essential. It is our chance to send our representatives into the parliament. However, we have also witnessed irregularities on the part of the Election Commission, especially on budget allocation, processes of producing ballots, or rearranging the election districts. Senators also still hold the power to choose the Prime Minister.”

“After the election, many scenarios are possible. Are the senators going to pick a Prime Minister who was not an MP candidate? Is the next elected government going to listen to the people? We need to keep a close eye not only on the reform of the justice system or the amendment of Article 112, but also on other equally important issues, such as marriage equality.”

“What if there was a coup before or during the elections? It might happen, considering the fact that staging a coup is one way those currently in power try to hold on to their authority. If it ever comes to that, we have to move the fight outside of the parliament.”

Get also talked about the negative impact the military government has had on his life, especially the numerous violations he was subjected to.

“When it comes to the matter of freedom of speech, an organization can provide an avenue to express concerns and work together towards finding solutions. A country should also work that way. If farmers, entrepreneurs, students, or anyone speaks up about our country’s structural flaws, we need to address those flaws, not silence them through SLAPPs (strategic lawsuits against public participation). The issue is that people in positions of authority never listen to us.”

“In the first 4 years, we thought that the junta would not stay in power for long. Our hope was however crushed during the 2020 election when 249 NCPO-appointed senators voted for a Prime Minister who was not an MP candidate. This process destroyed Thailand’s democratic process and severely undermined sovereignty.”

“We are not happy with the court’s decision that allowed Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to stay for an extra 2 years. We are also not happy that his scaffolding continues to stay either.

The coup has hurt us deeply. It happened when I was the same age as Yok [youth activist who is currently detained in an Article 112 case]. I don’t want the younger generations to endure this too. I want this to end in our generation.”

When asked about what he would want the new government to prioritize, Get said:

“The next government should uphold freedom of expression. Speaking up has often led to prosecutions, and Thailand’s progress has been impeded because the government does not welcome people’s critiques. Our problems will not disappear by the time the next government is appointed. If anyone else decides to raise concerns again, will they also face legal charges?

The amendment of the constitution, especially the sections inherited from NCPO, is a necessity. This is because the constitution governs all the other laws. We (as a society) need to stress on the fact that the constitution protects freedom of speech.

Moreover, reform of the justice system and pardons [for those prosecuted for politically-motivated reasons] need to happen. I don’t believe that pardons should be granted to red shirts or young activists only; they can also be extended to conservatives. The latter should also not be convicted for merely voicing out different opinions.”

Get also has a message for the new government and the Thai people:

“I hope the next government will provide a safe space where we can freely express our opinions. Dissenters are not criminals. Our beliefs are different, but it doesn’t mean we have any malice towards those holding different views from us. What our society needs now is not just peace. We need our problems to be addressed. The use of various methods to suppress dissenters will continue to jeopardize the future of younger generations, and even older generations as well.”

“I also want to tell people that:

Since we have been engaging with the people on the ground more, we’ve discovered that both younger and older people are aware of the existing issues, but may not know the solutions. In particular, the older generation has lost hope in our country, while the younger generation’s hope has been destroyed repeatedly.”

“Political prosecutions or current threats to freedom of speech concern all of us. The problems we are experiencing are structural, and we are living under the same repressive system.”

“Tawan [Tantawan Tuatulanon] and I may be silenced today, but tomorrow it could happen to other people–those who question the prices of rice, criticize huge corporations, or advocate for better electricity prices. It is all connected.”

While you’re here

  • Read what Netiporn "Bung" Sanesangkhom from Thaluwang group, a youth activist with an unwavering commitment to reform Thailand’s monarchy, said in an exclusive interview with Manushya 👉🏻

  • We’d also like to give you an insight into our previous work on supporting democracy, combating dictatorship, fighting for corporate accountability and climate justice, and powering women leaders, creating a safer, inclusive space online and offline for everyone:

➡️ We developed ‘Everything You Need to Know about #WhatsHappeningInThailand’ report, together with more than 50 rights groups, in preparation for Thailand’s third UPR. It contains a comprehensive overview of the most challenging human rights issues in the country and our recommendations for a better Thailand.

➡️ You can also watch our Youtube playlist #WhatsHappeningInThailand specific to the Pro-democracy protests.

➡️ To inform Thailand’s CERD review and make sure that concerns of grassroots communities are addressed, we prepared the Joint CERD Shadow Report ‘Thailand is a Paradise But only for the 1%’, highlighting the most important issues of racial discrimination in the country.

➡️ In collaboration with feminist and women’s rights groups, we developed the Joint Civil Society CEDAW Report, which addresses the struggles of all women. This is part of our commitment to advance the values of feminism in intersectional contexts and powering women leaders to be at the center of Thailand’s human rights narrative and lead the human rights movement!

➡️ Also, we developed the Freedom on the Net country report for Thailand in 2020, 2021, and 2022, together with Freedom House, exploring the digital rights situation yearly in Thailand.

➡️ You can also watch our Youtube playlist specific to Digital Rights & Online Freedom, including our Webinars part of the ASEAN Regional Coalition to #StopDigitalDictatorship, our #RightsCon sessions and more!

➡️ We also developed a Joint Submission on ‘Digital Rights in Thailand’ for Thailand’s III UPR, and the ‘UPR Advocacy Factsheet on Digital Rights in Thailand,’ bringing to light Thailand’s abuse of laws aimed at eliminating citizens’ basic human rights online.

➡️ We launched a campaign to #StopDigitalDictatorship in Southeast Asia to fight against rising digital dictatorship in the region.

➡️ To document Thailand’s treatment of LGBTIQ+ people and support them, we developed a Joint Submission on SOGIESC rights, and one on LGBTIQ+ youth and children, for Thailand’s III UPR. We also prepared a UPR Advocacy Factsheet on the situation of LGBTIQ+ persons.

➡️ We push back against corporate capture and support communities in their fight against corrupt practices and abuse that puts profit over people and the planet:

➡️ #JusticeForPhichit: We support villagers in Phichit and Phetchabun who have been severely affected by the operations of a gold mining company. Those who pushed back against the company face judicial harassment and SLAPP charges and, as part of our work to seek justice for them, we will keep up the fight to make sure their rights are respected, protected, and fulfilled.

➡️ #SaveSabWaiVillagers: We seek justice for the Sab Wai villagers who are victims of Thailand’s false climate solution criminalizing guardians of the forest! They have been unfairly convicted of trespassing, utilizing, and clearing land in Sai Thong National Park. We advocated for them not to be jailed, and we’re now supporting their resistance against cruel land evictions.

➡️ We created the #WeAreJustTransition Movement to speak with one unified voice and amplify our concerns together with local communities affected by climate change, greenwashing policies, and criminalized under Thailand's false climate solutions.

#ThailandElection2023 #เลือกตั้ง66 #WhatsHappeningInThailand #Abolish112 #MonarchyReform #WealthInequality #StopDigitalDictatorship #ยกเลิก112 #ปฏิรูปสถาบันกษัตริย์ #ปฏิรูปไม่เท่ากับล้มล่าง #SaveThaiDemocracy #DemocracyNow #MilkTeaAlliance #พรบคอม #ทะลุวัง


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