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Fourteen students who were indicted by a military court and imprisoned in Thailand have been released after a petition was started and gained more than 14,000 signatures on Change.org.
On May 22, 2014, the Thai military launched a coup to overthrow the elected government. On the first anniversary of coup, university students gathered and held a peaceful protest against the junta, the ruling government.
Forty of them were detained by the police and held in the Bangkok Remand Prison. Video recorded by a student at the police station told how they were physically assaulted during the arrest; in the student’s own words, they were “electrocuted, dragged by the hair, hurt at the genitals, strangled, and punched…“
On June 26, 14 students were officially arrested and charged with sedition – speech that incites people to rebel against the government – for violating the junta’s order that prohibited political gatherings of more than five people.
Each student faced seven years in prison if convicted. Their cases would be tried in a military court where hearings are often held behind closed doors and there is no right to appeal.
A day after their arrest, a petition was started demanding the students be released and the charges against them dropped.
“Nonviolence is not a crime,” she wrote in the petition. “A demand for democracy can not be criminalized. An act to promote and uphold human rights, community rights and public participation can not be treated as a threat to national security. A call for justice can not be rewarded with punishment.”
Awareness of the student’s imprisonment and the petition grew on social media with the use of the hashtag #FreeOurFriends.
Offline activities also helped to build pressure against the government. Walls were set up in Bangkok where people could write messages of support. A makeshift prison was created so friends of the 14 students could show solidarity by “imprisoning” themselves. Candlelight vigils were held. Messages from these offline events were distributed through social media to engage supporters.
While the government did not budge at first, increasing pressure from both the international community – including The UN, the European Union, and Human Rights Watch – finally led them to compromise. And as crowds gathered outside a military court to protest on July 7, the 14 students were released.
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