Buddhist monks, mourners, activists and the merely curious 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 hated former dictator when they were trapped by a right-wing mob and heavily armed paramilitary police, who fired guns and grenades at the defenseless crowd of several thousand.
After subduing the students, thugs rushed in and grabbed as many as a dozen. They were then taken to a nearby public field, beaten to death, hanged and otherwise abused, with the bodies unceremoniously tossed onto a makeshift funeral pyre. The official death toll was 46, though credible independent estimates put it at more than 100.
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The disorder was used as an excuse for the army to seize power later that day, undoing a student-led democratic revolution of three years earlier.
This year’s commemoration has drawn broader interest than usual because an invited speaker, Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong, was not allowed into the country by Thai authorities, making headlines worldwide. Wong was supposed to speak at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, which this year for the first time was joining Thammasat in marking the
The Thammasat massacre has always been a sensitive issue, both because the images of lynchings speak to a dark side of the Thai character and because the assault on the university showed how the state can carry out human rights abuse with impunity _ no perpetrators were ever punished.
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, 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.