BANGKOK Thai students on Thursday marked the 40th anniversary of a campus massacre by state forces in the military-ruled country amid what one rights group said was a "deep-rooted culture of impunity" that has emboldened the army to intervene in politics.
Political upheavals caused by urban and rural protests destabilised Thailand between 1973 and 1976, prompting the military to intervene, saying it needed to save the country from what it called the "red menace" of socialist leaning students, academics and farmers.
On October 6, 1976, state forces and royalist mobs attacked a group of about 2,000 students inside Thammasat University in Bangkok and hanged, shot or beat to death dozens, accusing them of sympathizing with revolutions sweeping through Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos at the time.
In recent times, Thailand has weathered more than a decade of political upheaval since the army ousted populist Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006.
Eight years later, the army removed his sister, Prime Minister Yingluck, in a May 2014 coup, saying it acted to end months of political instability.
Since then, Thailand has faced a deepening rights crisis with political activity banned.
"From the October 6, 1976, massacre until today, the Thai military has never been held accountable for political violence," Sunai Phasuk, Thailand researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Reuters.
"A deep-rooted culture of impunity has emboldened the military to intervene in politics, violate human rights ... and overthrow an elected government again and again."
Around 200 students gathered at Thammasat University to remember the 1976 massacre and laid wreaths at a memorial.
Surachart Bamrungsuk, a political science professor and survivor, said it was important to remember 1976 because Thailand had "come full circle".
"It's important the younger generations know what happened," Surachart told Reuters. "We need to remember because we have come full circle. Once again we have a military government like 40 years ago."
The military government declined to comment on the Oct. 6 anniversary.
"Forty years later we are still fighting against dictatorship," said Sirawith Serithiwat, a student activist.
The anniversary comes a day after Thailand barred entry to Hong Kong student activist Joshua Wong, a key figure in the 2014 Umbrella Revolution protests in the city, who was due to speak at two university events in Bangkok.
Last month, international rights group Amnesty International accused Thailand's military government of allowing a "culture of torture" to flourish since 2014, accusations the junta rejected.
(Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Cod Satrusayang and Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Nick Macfie)