A GROUP of mourners comprising Buddhist monks, activists and others gathered Thursday to mark the 40th anniversary of one of the darkest days in Thailand’s history, when police killed scores of university students at a peaceful protest, and ghoulish vigilantes defiled the dead.
Students at Bangkok’s Thammasat University had been protesting the return from exile of a former dictator when they were trapped by a right-wing mob and heavily armed paramilitary police, who fired guns and grenades at the crowd.
Grim images of Thai students who were lynched by ultra-royalist mobs during Thammasat university massacre 40 years ago today pic.twitter.com/VWVOjTaQPU
— Jerome Taylor (@JeromeTaylor) October 6, 2016
After subduing the students, thugs rushed in and grabbed as many as a dozen. They were then taken to a nearby field, beaten to death, hanged and abused, with the bodies tossed onto a funeral pyre. The official death toll was 46, though independent estimates put it at more than 100.
The disorder, according to the Associated Press, was used as an excuse for the army to seize power later that day, undoing a student-led democratic revolution of three years earlier.
An Asian Correspondent opinion writer who wrote under the pseudonym Siam Voices in 2010 said the massacre pulled the country back to years of military rule, and was never highlighted in high school social science classes.
“The massacre which ended with the military coup d’état brought the political division to another level. Hundreds of books were banned. Student activists were hunted down, forcing many who were not even Communists to join the People’s Liberation Army of Thailand (PLAT), the armed wing of the Communist Party of Thailand,” the columnist said.
“The conflict between the PLAT and the military government lasted for a decade until the amnesty programme in late 1980s.”
Thailand marks 40th anniversary of the Thammasat University massacre – a watershed moment in Thai political history pic.twitter.com/EHzKmnnCwe
— Panu Wongcha-um (@PanuCNA) October 6, 2016
The commemoration of the massacre this year was also mired in controversy following the detention and deportation of Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong, who was barred from entering Thailand. Wong was scheduled to speak at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, which was joining Thammasat in marking the anniversary.
The rector of Thammasat, Somkit Lertpaithoon, was quoted by the news agency as saying that the university teaches its students about the violence, and even has survivors on its staff.
“Even though the events of Oct 6 may not be documented in Thai history, the new generation still strives to learn about it,” he said in a speech at the university to mark the day.
No perpetrators were ever punished in wake of the massacre, an issue that is sensitive in the country as images of lynchings reflected a dark side to Thai character, which also showed how the state was capable of human rights abuse.
The latest anniversary comes as Thailand is again under military rule since a 2014 coup d’etat, and as an increasing awareness of human rights since 1976 has led to much questioning of the use of state violence, the AP reported.
This is especially because of a sometimes violent struggle for political power that has troubled Thailand for the past decade, including bloody street battles in the capital Bangkok in 2010.
6 October 1976 – The Killing field at Thammasat University. Pic by AP Photos/Neal Ulevich pic.twitter.com/Q9PcP5HBWU
— ♥ Moui ♥ (@moui) October 5, 2016
“The massacre is still of interest 40 years after the fact because it remains officially unresolved. Those who were involved in the violence have not been held to account, even as there has been a wave of transitional justice processes around the world, and even expanded questioning and investigations in relation to the violence of April-May 2010,” Tyrell Haberkorn, a fellow in political and social change at the Australian National University, said earlier this week before the anniversary.
“The incident has relevance to the current state of Thai politics because it becomes possible to continue to stage coup after coup while repressing dissent because those who have done so in the past have not been held to account for doing so,” she told the AP.
Additional reporting from the Associated Press