Who is “Rainbow”, the young woman who became an icon of the protests in Thailand

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Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, 22, was arrested for leading the call for democracy. The challenge to the monarchy of the Asian country.

She is 22 years old and was arrested this Thursday for daring to face the greatest taboo of Thailand: the monarchy, pillar of a military political system that a part of the youth, thirsty for democracy, has rejected in the streets of the country for several months.

Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, known as Rung (rainbow), was arrested after the promulgation of an emergency decree that wants to smash this pro-democracy movement that floods the streets.

On Wednesday, this young woman led the protest that gathered thousands of people in the center of the Thai capital.

This sociology and anthropology student came out of anonymity on August 10. Before a tide of young people gathered at a university on the outskirts of Bangkok, he took the stage and with a determined voice ripped the ten points to reform the monarchy.

Never seen in the country where this royal institution is sacred and is protected by one of the toughest legislative arsenals in the world, which punishes defamation with up to fifteen years in prison, insults or threats against the very wealthy King Maha Vajiralongkorn, Rama X, and his family.

Rung and his comrades in struggle call for the repeal of the lese majesty law, the transparency of royal finances and the non-interference of the monarch in political affairs.

“I knew that after (reading), my life was going to change forever,” he told the AFP agency in August, from the university dormitory where he did not leave for fear of reprisals.

Raising your voice is a risk in this Asian country. At least nine pro-democracy militants, who fled Thailand after the 2014 coup, they have disappeared in recent years, according to the NGO Human Rights Watch.

Before getting on the podium, “I was holding my friends’ hands, I was extremely nervous,” the young woman recalled. But “I was willing to take the risk, I felt it was my duty to do so.”

Before her arrest, Rung was charged with “sedition”, a crime that can carry her up to seven years in prison.

Rung’s goal is not “to demolish or abolish the monarchy” but to “modernize it, adapt it to our times“.

The King of Thailand is the guarantor of the unity of the kingdom, who has registered twelve coups since 1932, and its oligarchic system made up of aristocrats, senior army commanders and a business elite, mostly Chinese-Thai.

In this sense, far beyond his status as constitutional monarch, he has considerable influence that he frequently exercises in the shadows.

Born in 1998 near Bangkok, Rung grew up in a middle-class family far from the political turmoil that rocked her country.

One of them was the overthrow of businessman Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006 when he was Prime Minister and the political crisis that followed with dozens of dead and hundreds of injured four years later.

But a childhood memory marked her forever: when a royal procession passed near her house, the police forced her and her relatives to go out on the street and kneel on the sidewalk.


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