We Walk Campaign Concludes in Thailand

After 28 days spent marching from Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, to the northeastern province of Khon Kaen, the roughly 200 participants in the We Walk for Friendship civil rights campaign arrived on February 16 at the Democracy Monument in Khon Kaen’s capital district, Muang. As they approached their destination, the marchers split up into four groups, each representing one of the campaign’s core issues: universal healthcare coverage, food security and farming rights, management of natural resources, and the rights of low-income workers. They then converged on the landmark—a replica of Bangkok’s famous symbol of democracy—from four directions.

A military junta, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), has governed Thailand since staging a successful coup d’etat in May 2014. Concerned about how the junta’s policies have negatively affected citizens’ rights and liberties, an umbrella group of social activists known as the People Go Network (PGN) organized the march in order to raise awareness and encourage public discussion of these issues.

The group announced the march to the public on January 17. The organizers also notified authorities of the planned demonstration in accordance with the Public Assembly Act, which places strict limitations on public gatherings.

Activists gathered at Thammasat University’s Rangsit campus to launch the march on January 20. Despite their precautions, they faced riot control and the provincial police force, which set up a barricade to block the protesters from leaving.

“They allowed us to carry out activities inside the university but not leave the campus,” Anusorn Unno, a PGN member, said.

After several hours of communication with the police, 12 activists left the campus in groups of four, keeping their distance from one another in order not to violate the ban on larger political gatherings. The rest of the demonstrators remained on campus.

Along the way, the group experienced more police pressure, prompting them to file charges against the officers. On January 26, the Central Administrative Court granted the marchers’ request for an injunction, ordering the police to not infringe upon the right to peaceful assembly. The court also instructed police to facilitate and provide protection for the marchers.

Although the Royal Thai Police appealed the ruling, the Supreme Administrative Court, Thailand’s top court, upheld the decision on February 15.

However, the activists continued to face major challenges. They had initially planned to hold an academic seminar on the Constitution and public participation in government as the march’s closing activity. Khon Kaen University officials, however, turned down the marchers’ request to use the university space for such an event.

Despite the setbacks, the group mainly focused on their accomplishments. “We’ve reached our destination despite obstacles. The march shows democracy still exists,” Lertsak Kamkongsak, a PGN member, said.

Looking forward to the future, the marchers urged the government to hold “free and fair” general elections as soon as possible and expressed their hopes that there would be many more demonstrations like We Walk to come.