Mourners have gathered outside Thammasat University to mark four decades since dozens of protesters were killed by security forces and militias. The anniversary comes with Thailand once again under military rule.
In Bangkok early Thursday morning, Buddhist monks began commemorations marking the 40th anniversary of the Thammasat massacre, one of the worst atrocities in the country's history. Braving the rain, the monks led a procession joined by mourners and curious onlookers.
Activists holding candles were on the streets outside Thammasat University before dawn to remember the dozens - if not more than 100 - students who were killed by government forces and pro-monarchy militias outside the campus on October 6, 1976.
The massacre came as weeks of student protests against former military dictator Thanom Kittikachorn being allowed back into the country had elevated tensions to a fever pitch. The day before the tragedy, news outlets across the country ran a story alleging that the students had carried out a mock execution of Prince Vajiralongkorn, a huge taboo in a country that reveres its royal family.
Soldiers opened fire on protesters
The demonstrators were surrounded by soldiers, police and right-wing mobs, who blocked off all the exits from university grounds. They fired at the protestors, sexually assaulted female students, and many of the dead bodies were desecrated in the lynch-mob mentality that soon took over. Using the chaos to seize power, the army forced Prime Minister Seni Pramoj out of power and established a new military junta, allegedly with approval from King Bhumibol, who still reigns today.
Official estimates put the death toll at 46 and the number of wounded at 167, but witnesses said there were far more casualties, putting the number closer to 100 dead. The government has consistently remained silent on its role in the event.
Although it allows commemoration events, the Thai government has been ambivalent about the massacre and never publicly admitted guilt
"Even though the events of October 6 may not be documented in Thai history, the new generation still strives to learn about it," said university rector Somkit Lertpaithoon, The Associated Press reported.
This anniversary comes as Thailand finds itself yet again ruled by a military junta after a 2014 coup.
This year commemorations of the massacre have sparked unusually high international media attention because of the arrest and deportation of one of the invited speakers, Joshua Wong. The 19-year-old democracy activist from Hong Kong was detained after arrival in Bangkok on Wednesday, reportedly at the behest of Beijing.