Thai authorities seek to censor coverage of student protests

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Pro-democracy activists wave mobile phones with lights during a demonstration at Kaset intersection, suburbs of Bangkok, Thailand, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. Thai authorities worked Monday to stem a growing tide of protests calling for the prime minister to resign by threatening to censor news coverage, raiding a publishing house and attempting to block the Telegram messaging app used by demonstrators. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

BANGKOK – Thai authorities worked Monday to stem a growing tide of protests calling for the prime minister to resign by threatening to censor news coverage, raiding a publishing house and attempting to block the Telegram messaging app used by demonstrators.

The efforts by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s government to drain the student-led protests of support and the ability to organize comes as demonstrations have grown in the capital and spread around the country, despite an emergency decree, which bans public gatherings of more than four people in Bangkok, outlaws news said to affect national security and gives authorities broad power to detain people.

Thousands of mostly young protesters massed in northern Bangkok on Monday evening, as they have in various locations in the capital over the past six days to push their demands, including a controversial call for reform of the monarchy. At one point, they raised their arms in unison and flashed a three-fingered salute, a sign of resistance borrowed from “The Hunger Games” movie series. As night fell, they held their cellphones up, and the points of light dotted the crowd.

Elsewhere, protesters gathered outside a prison where more than a dozen demonstrators were being held.

The protesters charge that Prayuth, an army commander who led a 2014 coup, was returned to power unfairly in last year’s general election because laws had been changed to favor a pro-military party. The protesters say a constitution written and passed under military rule is undemocratic.

But their more recent demand for checks and balances on the monarchy has deeply angered conservative Thais — and broken a taboo since the monarchy is considered sacrosanct and tough laws protecting it from insult mean its role is not usually discussed openly. It has also raised the risk of confrontation in a country where calls for political change have a history of being met with military intervention or even violence.

Authorities have used water canons to disperse protesters in recent days and detained some. Several protest leaders who were arrested for trying to stage an overnight rally last week outside the prime minister’s office were freed by an appeals court Monday. Protest-related charges are still pending against them.

Authorities are now increasingly turning to censorship to try to clamp down on the demonstrations after protesters heckled a royal motorcade last week in a once unthinkable scene.