Thai anti-coup protesters say it with sandwiches

June 8

Activists protesting last month’s military coup in Thailand face a possible two-year jail term if they get too strident, so on Sunday they found a new way to show their sentiments: handing out “sandwiches for democracy.”

A small group of student activists from Bangkok’s Thammasat University had hoped to hold a picnic rally, but they found the park next to their campus sealed off by the authorities. So instead they paraded down a nearby street, handing out sandwiches and cakes to anyone who wanted them. One older man accompanying them shouted to onlookers, “Sandwiches for democracy!”

Other anti-coup activists have held silent public readings of symbolic works such as “1984,” George Orwell’s indictment of totalitarianism. But the intimidation level is high, with authorities rolling out thousands of troops and police officers when they anticipate a protest. Those charged with breaching the military’s regulation against stirring up unrest are liable to face a court-martial.

The military council that took power May 22 has been the toughest post-coup regime in Thailand in more than four decades, summoning more than 300 people perceived as threats to public order — including members of the ousted civilian government, activists and intellectuals — to elicit pledges not to instigate unrest. The most recent of Thailand’s 12 successful coups were in 1976, 1977, 1991 and 2006.

Those seen as hotheads are detained without trial for up to a week, to give them time to cool off and consider the situation, the army says.

An overnight curfew affecting about a third of the country’s provinces has gradually been eased, with hours shortened and exceptions added, particularly for tourist areas. The military announced Sunday that it was lifting the curfew in three other areas: the southern city of Hat Yai, and the popular islands of Koh Chang and Koh Phangan.

The curfew remains in effect in the capital, Bangkok, although it is only loosely enforced.

The beleaguered nonviolent protest movement suffered a major blow last week when a leading organizer was arrested at his hideout east of Bangkok. Much defiance now takes place online, where protesters encourage one another to post photos of themselves giving a three-finger salute, a symbol of resistance adopted from the popular movie “The Hunger Games.” Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the coup leader, said he did not have any problem with people making the gesture, though he indicated that he considers it un-Thai because it is borrowed from a foreign film.

The army says it overthrew the caretaker civilian government to prevent more bloodshed between pro- and anti-government demonstrators. Months of street protests in the capital led to the deaths of more than two dozen people and left the economy reeling.

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