Thais mark 1976 massacre

There are countless graphic images from the massacre. Source: YouTube

Buddhist monks, survivors, mourners and pro-democracy activists have gathered to mark the 40th anniversary of one of the darkest days in Bangkok’s history, when police killed as many as 100 students taking part in a peaceful protest.

Thammasat University students were protesting against the return from exile of the former dictator Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn in 1976, when they were encircled by nationalist mobs and the authorities, who fired guns and grenades at several thousand unarmed protesters within the campus.

At the service held candles or wore T-shirts with the slogan “I think therefore I am dead” featuring a hanged man in reference to the lynching of students who were strung from trees near the campus.

The mob beat many students to death and hanged, raped and lynched students whose bodies were then burned. The official death toll was 46 although 100 is thought to be a more accurate figure. The army immediately announced a coup and enforced a news blackout, meaning reports of the massacre were suppressed.

Thursday’s ceremonies resonate because the military has held power in Thailand since the May 2014 coup.

“There were many killed and injured on that day,” said Sinsawat Yodbangtoey, 63, who was an art student at another college when he joined the Thammasat protests. “Even though I wasn’t injured… my heart is wounded.”

“I think we all have heard the term ‘Brexit’ used to describe the process of Britain leaving the EU. I would like to propose that the first necessary condition for democracy in Thailand is ‘Mexit’; meaning the first necessary condition is to take the military out of politics,” said Surachart Bamrungsuk, a former student leader who witnessed the massacre and was jailed for two years.

“If we can’t take the military out of politics, then don’t even think about democracy,” said Surachart, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.

Teenage Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong was prevented from attending the commemorations at the apparent request of the Beijing authorities. Wong was due to address the crowd at Chulalongkorn, which this year joined Thammasat for the first time in marking the massacre.

The rector of Thammasat, Somkit Lertpaithoon, told the crowd: “Even though the events of October 6 may not be documented in Thai history, the new generation still strives to learn about it.”

The 1976 crackdown has always been a sensitive issue, because of the brutal photographic images of lynching and how unaccountable the government remains, despite being guilty of mass murder. No perpetrators were punished and few people have been identified from the photographs that documented the day.

Red-shirt activists, who support the democratic government deposed in 2014, claim the killings that took place in Bangkok in 2010 have been given less attention than the 1976 massacre, because the victims were largely working class, rather than students.