Nineteen newly elected red shirt committee members, representing each of the provinces of the Northeast of Thailand, gathered for the first time on Thursday to rally support for the movement and celebrate the release of seven red shirt leaders and a red shirt guard from prison on Tuesday, 22 February.

After over nine months of detention, red shirt leaders Kwanchai Sarakham, Nisit Sinthuprai, Natthawut Saikua, Wiphuthalaeng Pattanaphumthai, Yossawaris Chuklom (also known as Jeng Dokchik), Korkaew Pikulthong, Weng Tojirakam, and red shirt guard Pichet Suchindathong, have been released on bail for terrorism charges following the April-May crackdown of anti-government protests.

Over 10,000 supporters from throughout the region came together in Khon Kaen to recognize their newly elected representatives and hear them speak.

Kwanchai, among those recently released from prison claims “this is a big day for the Isaan leaders. Today they have selected the committee for Isaan and solidified all the positions. The committee gives guidance to the red shirtmovement and is coming up with strategies.”

Among those strategies is a non-violent push for the release of 100-150 red shirts that have yet to be granted bail and remain in detention.

Thida Tojirakarn, who has taken on a leadership role in the movement after the arrest of her husband Weng Tojirakam, said the release of prisoners was a good sign. “It shows that negotiations with the government are possible and that the government can bend. They were released because of the effort red shirts put in visiting prisoners and demanding documents from the government.”

Kwanchai Sarakham receives a string from a fan as onlookers watch. The tying of strings is part of the Isaan ceremony “bpai si sukhwan” meant to bless the receiver’s spirit.

[Hayden Reed writes for a soon-to-be-launched blog called The Isaan Record. Photographs by Lukas Winfield]