How protest leader ‘Penguin’ continues ruffling feathers

Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak gives the three-finger salute to the protesters during an anti-government rally at Lat Phrao intersection in Bangkok on December 2, 2020. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP)

No anti-establishment protest activist has been more effective at grabbing media attention than Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak. 

The tubby 23-year-old Thammasat University student has even managed to make headlines from behind bars, where he is being detained on lese majeste and other serious charges.

The student protest leader has been in the limelight ever since he was first arrested on August 14, 2020.

He told media at the time that his arrest must have had something to do with his reciting the 10-point manifesto for monarchy reform.

Apart from demanding reform of the monarchy, the anti-establishment movement is also calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his government, as well as a more democratic constitution.

“We have raised the ceiling and will never lower it. My arrest will not be wasted,” Parit told an army of reporters last August just outside the Criminal Court after being granted temporary release without bail one day after his arrest.

The court set one condition for Parit’s release – that he did not repeat the alleged offence that led to his first charge.

Parit in a prison uniform on march 15, 2021.

Standing defiant

However, a defiant Parit repeated the call for monarchy reform while leading large anti-establishment rallies at Sanam Luang last September. He also allegedly criticised the royal institution, which resulted in more charges of lese majeste and sedition. Prosecutors indicted him and seven other protest leaders for their roles in the September rallies.

The Criminal Court recently refused to grant them bail on grounds that they would likely continue repeating their alleged offences if released.

Parit has managed to attract media limelight over the months with his open letters to supporters that are published on the protest movement’s social-media accounts.

The messages are often peppered with strong words and thinly veiled references to the monarchy.

“Don’t worry about me. Focus on the fight against the elitist dictatorship and their organs. I have openly joined the fight. We have the same enemy,” he concluded in a letter written after being arrested in August last year.

Hunger strike 

A “star” of the youth-led reform movement, Parit ruffled feathers again on March 15 at the Criminal Court during a hearing against 22 protest leaders. He read a prepared statement slamming the Thai judiciary for its role in the ongoing political conflict.

The statement prompted raucous cheers and a volley of paper-cup missiles from his supporters in the courtroom.

They also formed a human chain around Parit to stop guards pulling him away as he read the statement.

The protest leader also declared he would go on a partial hunger strike – consuming only liquids until the court grants bail to him and other defendants charged with lese majeste.

Critics say the draconian lese majeste law (Article 112), which carries punishment of up to 15 years in jail, is often used as a tool to silence opposition to the government.

Some 60 people were present to observe Monday’s hearing, including officials from foreign embassies and international organisations.

On Thursday (March 18), three days into his partial hunger strike, Parit issued another open letter via Facebook.

“I am happy to abstain from food because every bite should be meaningful for people outside [of prison]. With every bite you take, please be aware that people are being detained for simply telling the truth. While you are eating, remember that the oppressed continue suffering,” his message read.

Anti-government protest leader Parit Chirawak crosses a police barrier on the way to Khlong Luang police station to hear charges for illegal gathering, in Pathum Thani on February 5, 2021. (Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP)

‘Stunt to discredit Thai legal system’  

Some say the chaos in the courtroom was staged with the aim of discrediting the Thai justice system.

Royalist politician Warong Dechgitvigrom said in a Facebook post on Wednesday that British academic and author Andrew MacGregor Marshall, who is wanted in Thailand for lese majeste offences, tweeted photos of Parit reading the statement.

Warong also noted that Parit had read a prepared statement as a group of people blocked court guards from taking him away. Also, he said, the photos were taken from within the courtroom and distributed by a foreigner.

“All these points confirm that the incident was planned to discredit the Thai monarchy, military and judiciary,” Warong said.

Veteran lawyer Paisal Puechmongkol said it was unprecedented for a defendant to read a political statement inside a courtroom.

He also said that the supporters who huddled together to protect Parit and those behind the raucous applause had been mobilised purposely.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk


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