No signs of mass protests a year after Thai coup | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 21.05.2015
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No signs of mass protests a year after Thai coup

One year ago, the democratically-elected government of PM Yingluck Shinawatra was overthrown by Thailand's military. While there have been no mass anti-junta demonstrations, some other forms of resistance are emerging.

It was a hot day in Bangkok. Dozens of people gathered in the Buddhist temple of Wat Pathum Wanaram in the Thai capital. Military personnel and police in plain clothes were guarding the entrances to the temple's courtyard. The government demanded that the memorial service in the temple must remain strictly religious, and warned that no speeches against the junta would be tolerated.

Security has been tighter because of the upcoming first anniversary of the military coup, which took place last year on May 22. Journalists, including those working for DW, were initially denied entrance, but were later allowed after the number of reporters began to swell.

The memorial service at the temple was organized by Payao Akkahad, who wanted to remember her daughter Kamonkate. Kate, as she was known, was shot dead five years ago when Thailand's ubiquitous army crushed Red Shirts protests by force. Most of the Red Shirts activists support the Shinawatra family, which the military ousted twice from power - Yingluck in 2014, and her brother Thaksin in 2006.

Thailand's newly appointed Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha speaks during a news conference, after he received the royal command appointing him the country's new premier, at the Royal Army headquarters in Bangkok in this August 25, 2014 handout courtesy of the Thailand Government House (Photo: REUTERS/Thailand Government House/Handout via Reuters)

Political gatherings are banned in the country, and people are not allowed to criticize the coup leaders

'Nothing is forgotten'

Kate, who was 25 years old when she was killed, worked as a volunteer nurse at the Wat Pathum Wanaram temple, helping the wounded. The temple was considered a refuge for the protesters who had demonstrated for weeks against the government at the time.

"My daughter was killed while she was helping the other people," Payao told DW.

Payao and her son Nattapat were briefly arrested by the police while they were seeking justice for Kate. As a mother, she said, she would continue to demand justice for her daughter.

Fight for democracy

Fear and suspicion prevail in Thailand one year after the coup. Although the junta lifted martial law on April 1, 2015, they replaced it with even stricter regulations. Political gatherings remain banned in the country, and people are not allowed to criticize the coup leaders.

Those who demand justice and restoration of democracy and speak out against the military-dominated government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha are subjected to intimidation and imprisonment. Dissidents are tried in military courts, which have already convicted a number of activists and politicians.

Punsak Srithep also came to the memorial service at Wat Pathum. His 17-year-old son was also shot dead in 2010 – a few days before Kate's killing. Punsak has been fighting for the authorities to carry on with the investigation into his son's murder, which was stopped after the last year's coup.

He has repeatedly challenged the junta's legitimacy. As a member of a small group, "Resistant Citizen," Punsak has staged small symbolic demonstrations with three other people. Although the four men were briefly detained, the activist says this won't intimidate them: "The Thai people have to realize that they must fight for justice and democracy," Punsak told DW.

Cautious protests

But most Thais are holding back from protesting against Prayuth's government because of the fear of repression, indifference, or because they are preoccupied with their daily struggles in life. Others probably don't oppose the regime.

At present, there is no mass movement against the junta. Shortly after the coup, hundreds of people took to the streets in parts of the capital, but since then, the anti-military protests have subsided. Now the protests take place on a small scale – mostly organized by students, intellectuals and rights activists.

In November 2014, five students were arrested because they chose to protest directly in front of Prayuth: They greeted him with a "three-finger sign," which has come to symbolize a way of protesting against military dictatorships in Thailand.

At this year's International Women's Day on March 8, a small group of activists protested at Bangkok's Monument of Democracy, located near the government buildings. They carried banners and posters. Among other things, they called for an immediate return to democracy, holding of elections, as well as the release of all political prisoners.