A man was arrested in Thailand on Tuesday after spray painting anti-monarchy symbols on a wall at Bangkok’s Grand Palace.
In videos of the arrest circulating online, police are seen tackling the man after he draws a circle around the letter ‘A’—representing anarchism—and the numbers “112” in strikethrough—a reference to Section 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code, a royal defamation law often used against pro-democracy activists.
The 25-year-old, identified in local reports only by his nickname Earn, was detained on Tuesday after his arrest. But by the next morning, the same symbols were spotted spray painted in other parts of Bangkok. Activists from the elusive anti-monarchy group, Thalugaz, had taken to the streets in solidarity with the artist as part of a “graffiti strategy” protest spreading the same anti-monarchy symbols.
“We just wanted to do it even though the [art] on the wall has [now] been deleted. [But] the message behind the graffiti will show [throughout] the whole country, on and on, endlessly,” said a Thalugaz activist, who goes by the pseudonym George to avoid legal repercussions.
“I have never been afraid of the police,” another Thalugaz activist told VICE World News, requesting anonymity for the same legal reasons. “If they want to arrest me, let them come.”
The anti-government and anti-monarchy group, made up mostly of working class youth, is known for their violent clashes with authorities at protests. During Thailand’s pro-democracy rallies in 2021, they regularly fought riot police with small homemade explosives and slingshots.
But this year, they’re looking to other forms of protests, most notably music and art.
“We will use rap and other forms of art as weapons,” another member of Thalugaz who goes by the pseudonym Water told VICE World News.
On Tuesday, Earn, the Grand Palace graffiti artist, was charged with damaging a historic site, which carries a prison sentence of up to seven years, and vandalizing a wall in a public place, which carries a fine of up to 5,000 baht ($146). He has not yet been charged with lese-majeste, which punishes criticism of the monarchy with up to 15 years in prison. He was released on bail on Wednesday.
Akarachai Chaimaneekarakate, a legal fellow at Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, a civil society group offering free legal representation to the graffiti artist, told VICE World News that they’re “keeping a close eye” on potential lese-majeste charges in the case.
Akarachai added that the case illustrates Thailand’s “shrinking civic space.”
“It seems to be a lot more difficult for pro-democracy activists in Thailand to peacefully express their opinion,” he said. “What happened in this particular case is an act of peaceful expression with respect to the person’s view on the lese-majeste law in Thailand.”
“He was pushed to the ground. The police officer placed his knee on top of the accused’s head,” Akarachai continued. “It’s unclear why this sort of tactic needed to be used against him when he was not resisting arrest.”
The graffiti artist was also detained in 2022 at his residence in Khon Kaen Province, northeastern Thailand. According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, authorities made him delete photos of his anti-monarchy artwork on Facebook, then warned him not to make any more, while threatening him with royal defamation.
A 15-year-old girl was also arrested with the artist on Tuesday, with police claiming she was an accomplice. The girl, who had also been summoned for violating royal defamation laws in January, is currently detained at a juvenile center, making her one of the youngest persons to be charged and detained for royal defamation.
Just one day after the graffiti was painted at the Grand Palace, the anti-monarchy symbols were removed by authorities. The Grand Palace, a prominent landmark of the Thai monarchy, no longer houses the royal family, who stay at the nearby Chitralada Palace. King Maha Vajiralongkorn is also known to spend much of his time in Germany, where he reportedly owns an $11 million home.
The arrests have sparked anger among pro-democracy activists in Thailand, who see the act as yet another assault on civil liberties. Earlier this month, a man was sentenced to two years in jail on lese-majeste charges for selling calendars featuring rubber ducks, a popular symbol in Thailand’s protest movement.
Although the most overt forms of Thailand’s pro-democracy movement have diminished since their peak in 2020 and 2021, when tens of thousands took to the streets, underground groups like Thalugaz are actively encouraging a subtle civil disobedience movement among the Thai public.
“Our hope is for everyone to fight against the dictatorship with their own strength,” George said. “You can move however you can, whether by sharing political news, signing a law, participation in political activities, or joining a protest.”
“Do not be silent, and do not ignore injustice.”
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