Roughly 1,250 people gathered in the Thai city of Chiang Mai wearing green ribbons to protest the construction of a luxury housing development on forested land. The development is located close to a mountain, Doi Suthep, that locals say is sacred, calling it the “natural lung” for the city. The development will house judges, high-up officials, and other elites.
Though authorities say the land belongs to the government and does not enter the national park that surrounds the mountain, local communities and environmental activists say that a sacred temple lays on the disputed land. However, construction has been underway since 2015 and following the Bangkok Post, the development is already mostly completed; approximately $32 million was spent on the project thus far.
The protesters have demanded that the development be demolished within one week, or else they will continue to protest. However, The Guardian reported that “officials said protesters could face legal action if the housing was demolished and that the homes should be used for 10 years before the public could reassess any environmental impact”.
The protest in itself was a big hurrah, considering that the junta that took power of Thailand in 2014 following a coup, imposed a ban on public gatherings of more than five people. Since then, the junta “...has largely curbed freedom of expression through various orders and used military and police forces to block public gatherings,” according to the Guardian.
Police Colonel Paisan, deputy commander of Chiang Mai Police, stated: “The protesters were focused on environmental issues and not politics, and they cleaned the street afterwards." He explained that the reason the protest was allowed to occur was that the organizers had gone through the proper requirements to request a public gathering.
Yet, there is more than just an act of environmental advocacy going on here. The Japan Times reported that the housing development has become a point of contention because of the underlying inequalities between classes in the country. Thai officials and elites often receive special treatment and the majority of the Thai people are fed up with this injustice. “We want the demolition of the houses and a return of the forest,” said the rally’s organizers in a statement over the weekend. “Bring back the forest to Doi Suthep. Bring back the forest to people.”