In the bustling heart of Bangkok, a tale of youthful defiance unfolds, featuring 22-year-old student activist Tantawan Tuatulanon and her compatriot Natthanon Chaimahabud, members of the spirited Thalu Wang protest group. This duo found themselves embroiled in controversy following an incident on February 4, involving none other than a royal motorcade, catapulting them into the spotlight and onto the desks of the Criminal Court which, come Tuesday, had arrest warrants with their names etched upon them.
The charge? Sedition, among other offences, for what was described as an attempt to disrupt the regal procession. The Din Daeng police, on a rather brisk Tuesday morning, ventured to secure court approval for these warrants after Tantawan and Natthanon’s conspicuous absence. They had twice failed to acknowledge their charges, opting instead to dispatch a representative from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights with paperwork in hand, pleading for a postponement of their investigative rendezvous until February 20. The reason? A classic clash of schedules with their academic commitments.
However, this appeal for delay did not sit well with the police investigators, who reasoned that the student activists could have easily fulfilled their civic duties post-class. Thus, a rejection was promptly issued. Tantawan was slapped with charges including inciting unrest under Section 116 of the Criminal Code combined with a dash of the Computer Crime Act. Natthanon, not to be outdone, faces a quartet of charges, bounding from Section 116 violations to honking a car horn under the Traffic Act, with a sprinkle of officer insult.
Earlier, in a saga of legal back-and-forth, police from several Bangkok stations had mooted to public prosecutors the idea of revoking Ms. Tantawan’s bail. This was after the duo allegedly expressed their dissatisfaction with the royal motorcade of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn via a car horn, as she glided along a Bangkok expressway on that fateful February day.
In a twist, Tantawan, already under the microscope for royal insult charges linked to the incident, took to Facebook with an apology for what she termed ‘reckless driving’ that day, vehemently denying any intent to harass or obstruct the royal convoy.
The story takes a more tumultuous turn when, on a Saturday following the incident, Tantawan and the Thalu Wang group orchestrated an opinion poll at the bustling Siam BTS station. The query at the heart of their poll? Whether royal motorcades were a source of inconvenience. As fate would have it, royalists, under the banner of Thai People Protecting the Monarchy, emerged, leading to a violent skirmish that would not soon be forgotten.
Tantawan’s journey has been anything but ordinary. With two arrests in her activist portfolio, both in the springs of 2022 for allegedly transgressing the lese-majeste law, she has become a figure of resilience. Her defiance was sharply highlighted by a 52-day hunger strike aimed at securing the release of 16 individuals detained amidst the fervent anti-government protests that began in mid-2020.
May of the following year saw her, alongside eight others, charged with a trilogy of trespassing, destroying public property, and obstructing officers at Samran Rat police station. Tantawan Tuatulanon’s story is a vivid tapestry of activism, legal wrangles, and an unyielding spirit, chronicling the trials and tribulations faced by those who dare to question the status quo in a nation where tradition and modernity are in a perpetual dance.