Muscat Daily

Their voice is vital: Thai celebritie­s break silence on democracy protests


Bangkok, Thailand - A K-pop superstar, beauty queens and TV personalit­ies are among a growing wave of celebritie­s backing Thailand’s pro-democracy movement, sending out messages of support to millions of followers on social media.

Political statements are unusual from Thai celebritie­s, whose lucrative endorsemen­ts rely on the billionair­e clans that are a pillar of the country’s establishm­ent. But some prominent figures broke cover after police fired water cannon at peaceful protesters in Bangkok on Friday.

Thai-American K-Pop idol Nichkhun, better known as the ‘Thai Prince’, told his 6.9mn Twitter followers he cannot ‘stand idly by’ after Friday’s scenes, an escalation after months of student-led protests.

“The use of violence is something I cannot watch and stand idly by,” said Nichkhun, a member of ultra-popular South Korean boy band 2PM, in a message that was retweeted by tens of thousands within hours.

“Violence has never helped anything. I hope everyone stays safe... and take care of yourselves.”

Friday’s showdown was the first such use of force against the protesters, who are calling for the resignatio­n of Premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha, a former military chief brought to power in a 2014 coup, and demanding reforms to the powerful monarchy.

It followed a tense week in the Thai capital when protesters defied a ban on demonstrat­ions, and the arrests of scores of leading activists, to return to the streets in their tens of thousands.

Nichkhun wasn't the only celebrity to speak up. Amanda Obdam, the newly crowned Miss Universe Thailand, took to Instagram with pictures of a lone protester pushing against riot police wielding their shields.

‘A picture says a thousand words,’ the Thai-Canadian model wrote. ‘Your job is to protect the people not harm them.’

Previously, many stars have remained conspicuou­sly silent

Pro-democracy protesters give the three-finger salute at Asok during an anti-government rally as they continue for the fourth consecutiv­e day to defy an emergency decree banning gatherings, in Bangkok on Sunday

on hot-button issues in celebrityo­bsessed Thailand, where their careers and income are closely tied to product endorsemen­ts.

Alienating potential employers may be a reason - especially in a kingdom where every sector hums along under the oversight of the multi-billion-dollar business empires, traditiona­l supporters of the ultra-wealthy royal family.

But business student Min, who arrived at Saturday’s protest with a helmet and a gas mask, said celebritie­s have a moral obligation to speak up.

“They are in the elite alongside

the government,” the 18 year old said. “Their voice is vital.”

That voice grew louder this week. Another former beauty queen, TV personalit­y Maria Poonlertla­rp, said in a video on Facebook that the treatment of protesters was ‘completely unjust’.

She had grown more vocal since the July disappeara­nce of Thai pro-democracy activist Wanchalear­m Satsaksit, who was kidnapped off the streets of Cambodia where he lived in selfexile.

“People have been silenced from speaking up about the dou

ble standards and the abuse of power,” she said in tears, switching between Thai and English.

“We’ve had a lot of injustice going on in Thailand for decades, fighting against our government for democracy,” she added.

Seated next to Maria in the video was her partner Wannasingh Prasertkul, a television presenter whose parents were part of a student movement that saw a massacre in 1976 by royalist forces in Bangkok.

Even some celebritie­s who have mixed with Thailand’s leaders have spoken out. Popular girl band BNK48 visited Prayut at

Government House in 2018, where officially released photos showed the normally gruff premier chatting cheerfully with the group.

The visit drew ire from critics who saw it as an attempt to soften the image of the former army chief, who mastermind­ed the 2014 coup and retained power in controvers­ial elections last year.

But BNK48 member Milin ‘Namneung’ Dokthian left no room for doubt about her feelings in a message urging protesters to ‘stay safe’ this week.

‘We wouldn’t have to say ‘be

safe’ if we had a true democracy,’ she wrote on Facebook, in a post shared by fellow band-members.

The support from some celebritie­s, and silence from others, are not lost on the young protesters. Juggling goggles and a helmet at Saturday’s protest, 25 year old Aim scoffed at those who refuse to speak up.

“Perhaps they are out of touch and have grown up in a (privileged) situation,” she said, adding that the fans are paying attention. “We will abandon them because they are ignorant people and are silent.”

 ?? (AFP) ??

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