2 years after coup, Thais fight junta with humor

2 years after coup, Thais fight junta with humor

Despite ongoing efforts to cut dissent, scope of social networks such that army restricted to symbolic acts of intimidation

By Max Constant

BANGKOK (AA) - Two years after the May 22 military coup, Thailand's generals are more entrenched than even in their positions, but are facing stubborn resistance from small groups of people armed with just two weapons.

We've come to rely on the Internet and humor, Pansak Srithep, a member of anti-coup group Resistant Citizens, told Anadolu Agency this week.

Protests by the group have snowballed since the army overthrew the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra on May 22, 2014, and established a military junta,

“No military regime has ever had to face the power of online social networks and Internet," Srithep underlined. "Today, anyone can be a journalist. And it’s clear that the military is overwhelmed by what they face [online] in 2016.”

Despite ongoing efforts to clamp down on dissent, the sheer scope of social networks is such that the army has been restricted to symbolic acts of intimidation -- those criticizing the junta online are frequently arrested and then quickly released for fear of the public relations debacle that can ensue.

On May 8, police arrested the mother of Siriwat Serithiwat -- a student activist -- for having replied “hmmm” to a Facebook message considered lese-majeste, a crime punished with a jail term between 3-15 years in Thailand. The online reaction was so heated that the junta released the woman after just one day.

Anond Nampa of the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights association says that the army quickly realized that such moves were counterproductive.

“The arrest was a big mistake because the generals were ridiculed everywhere. They released her to cut down on the momentum of the rising protests,” he told Anadolu Agency this week in a phone interview.

Further evidence of the junta's frustration came earlier this month in the arrest of eight men for running a satirical page named We Love Prayuth -- a reference to Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, Thailand's junta leader-cum-prime minister.

Six were released May 9 after one night in a police station, while two others were charged and detained on the country's draconian lese-majeste charge.

Some protesters, however, have also found satirical ways to highlight the injustice of the junta's continue rule while avoiding arrest.

In 2015, human rights lawyer Anond Nampa produced and distributed a music video online featuring a northeastern style song -- the northeast is seen as a bastion of supporters of the overthrown government -- where a soldier, played by Nampa, teases a woman and tries to entice her to follow a “non-democratic path”.

The clip infuriated the military, but they were unable to present a strong enough case to YouTube to convince them to remove it.

One student -- who wanted to be identified as Champ1984 for reasons of personal safety -- highlighted the parallels with satirists working under dictatorships across Thailand’s border in Myanmar -- a country that this year returned to full civilian rule.

“It is like with the comic actor Zargana in Burma [Myanmar] at the time of the military dictatorship," he told Anadolu Agency, referring to one of Myanmar's most popular satirists and fierce critics of juntas who was frequently imprisoned by the country's military government.

“Thai military reacts badly to humor because mockery undermines their image and reduces their authority."

In the past year, cartoonists have been summoned and interrogated for irreverent drawings, yet Thai newspapers continue to be full of cartoons lampooning the military.

“If we confront them frontally, the reaction can be very brutal," lawyer Nampa tells Anadolu Agency.

"Humor is still the best weapon. They don’t really know how to react to it."

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