“We Walk” activists carry anti-junta protest from Bangkok to Khon Kaen

“Folks, where are we walking to?”

“To Khon Kaen!”

“What are we walking for?”

“For FRIENDSHIP!”

This dialogue is shouted back and forth between members of the “People GO Network,” a group of activists participating in the “We Walk” protest, as they march up Mittraphap Highway through Sida, a border town between Nakhon Ratchasima and Khon Kaen.

As cars whip by on the highway, thirty activists carry white cloth flags with slogans calling on the military government to respect human rights and let people participate in politics again.

It has been 25 days since the protest march from Bangkok to Khon Kaen started at Thammasat University. The organizers of the “We Walk” campaign aim to raise awareness about the negative effects of the laws and regulations issued by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the official name of the military junta.

Thirty people participated in the “We Walk” campaign through Sida Dstrict, Nakhon Ratchasima Province on Feb 8.

“Khon Kaen is a center of the Isaan region, which has the highest number of poor people and has been the most severely impact by the NCPO’s measures. People in the Isaan region have problems accessing promised medical care (the 30-baht universal healthcare scheme), and have experienced other issues surrounding agriculture, natural resource management, and, especially, lack of public participation,” the campaign organizers said in a statement.

From their very first step in Bangkok on January 20, the marchers encountered pressure from the government. Security officers formed a human barrier, trying to stop the group from leaving the university grounds. The authorities claimed the gathering violated the law on public assembly. But the activists argued that it was a peaceful action and not against the law. A small group was eventually able to start the walk.

On January 22, a representative of the “We Walk” campaign, accompanied by a lawyer, filed a request to the National Administrative Court for officers to protect the participants on the protest march.

A day later, Lt. Gen. Phusit Klaihiran, a commander of the 4th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Division of the 2nd Field Artillery Regiment in Pathum Thani province, submitted a complaint to the police officers at Klong Luang police station against the walkers.  The police charged eight “We Walk” leaders with organizing a political demonstration with more than five people, which violates NCPO’s coup decree No. 3 of 2015.

The charged leaders included Lertsak Kamkongsak, a coordinator of Public Policy on Mineral Resources Project of the Eco-culture Study group, Anusorn Unno, the Dean of the Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology of Thammasat University, Nimit Tian-udom, the director of the Aid Access Foundation (AAF), Somchai Krajangsaeng, an AAF member, Saengsiri Srimacka, a coordinator of People’s Health Systems Movement, Nuchanard Taentong and Jamnong Noopan, members of the Four Regions Slum Network, and Ubon Yoowa, a coordinator of Alternative Agriculture Network (AAN).

On January 27,  the National Administrative Court granted temporary protection for the “We Walk” campaign. The court ordered the police to oversee the activity and to respect the participants rights to public assembly. This announcement is effective until Feb 17, the date when the marchers are expected to reach Khon Kaen City.

On January 31, the eight accused march leaders were informed of their charges at Klong Luang police station. They denied all of charges and insisted that their actions were legal as they were covered by the rights stated in the Constitution.

On February 1, the marchers reached Non Soong District in Nakhon Ratchasima Province. The walkers were supposed to spend three nights at a local temple, but the administrative officers of Non Soong only allowed a one-night stay.

Muratatee Rukchartcharoen, the vice-provincial governor of Nakhon Ratchasima Province, later claimed that the change was due to miscommunication among the local officers and stressed that it was not an effort to stop the activity.

On February 8, march leaders filed a request for activity protection to Somsak Jungtrakul, the provincial governor of Khon Kaen Province. The request was handed to Somchat Sota, a secretary of the provincial governor, to ask the provincial governor to allow the protection for the walkers’ rights to publicly assemble after the walkers planned to enter the province on February 9.

On February 13, the Facebook page “People GO Network,” a social networking channel created to communicate the We Walk activities, reported that the march has arrived to Non Daeng Subdistrict, Non Sila District, Khon Kaen Province,  without encountering any interference by local authorities.

To read more about activists participating in the “We Walk” campaign, click on the photos below.

Chutima Chuenhuajai: “Thai citizens view us as disruptive because they do not see first-hand what is going on in our village. I want Thai citizens to be more understanding and educated about some of the challenges that many communities in Thailand are facing.”

Nattawut Uppa: “We use walking as a tool because in the current situation with the government, we can’t do a lot of things. We benefit from walking first as a practice in our strength in body and heart.”

Lertsak Kumkongsak: “[In the past], NGOs in Thailand never merged community development and the political fight. This is what I am striving to do [now].”