Protesters hit by the police's water cannon shot at the 16 October 2020 protest.

No compensation for authorities’ actions in severe state of emergency, Court rules

The Civil Court has rejected a lawsuit from victims claiming to have been damaged by the severe state of emergency declared during 15 - 22 October 2020 following a massive protest and a clash around the royal motorcade, stating that the declaration was legitimate and reasonable.

A crowd control police with a gas mask on during the 16 October 2020 protest.

The lawsuit was filed on 22 October 2020. Six plaintiffs, with assistance from the Human Rights Lawyers Alliance, asked the Court to revoke the severe state of emergency and related orders. Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, and National Police Chief Pol Gen Suwat Jaengyodsuk were named as defendants in the case .

The Ratchadaphisek Court gave its ruling on the morning of 26 September. Suttikiat Khotchaso, lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the lawsuit consisted of two parts, firstly questioning the legitimacy of the severe emergency decree and subsequent orders, and secondly requesting compensation. The Court rejected the suit on both grounds.

Firstly, the Court found the severe state of emergency was declared due to protests that affected the security of a royal motorcade. The order was made under the provisions of Section 9 of the nationwide-declared State of Emergency using Covid-19 control as a pretext.

In view of the security reasons provided and the fact that the order was withdrawn a week later, the Court found that the severe state of emergency was enforced proportionately in terms of scope and duration. The police order that was declared in line with the decree was also withdrawn at the same time.

Regarding compensation, the Court found that the defendants were still able to exercise their rights and liberties and there was no inhumane treatment. The restrictions in service at some skytrain stations may have caused inconvenience, but journeys could still be made by other means.

The Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES) request to shut down some media during that period was also later rejected by the Court, causing no abuse. The physical injury to the defendants caused by tear gas-infused water on 16 October 2020 did not reach the point where compensation was warranted, as some were hit only by droplets, which were adequately treated by rinsing with clean water. Psychological damage in the form of panic and terror caused by being dispersed was also too remote to consider.

Suttikiat noted that the Court’s reasoning cited security reasons as a primary factor more than Covid-19 control measures. He also added that the ruling did not benefit the people’s exercise of rights and liberties because the authorities could declare a severe state of emergency using the same reasons that the Court gave. It also means that the actions of officials on that day were lawful.

Sutthikiat said there is a plan to appeal. 

What happened on 15-22 October?

The 1-week severe state of emergency was declared after a protest led by an ad-hoc organiser, Ratsadon (The People), marched from Democracy Monument, passing through several police barricades, to finally occupy the street in front of Government House on 14 October.

This occupation was the first of its kind since the people took to the streets in July 2020 calling for political and monarchy reform. On the way, a slight confrontation occurred between the protesters and a pro-monarchy group when a royal motorcade carrying Queen Suthida accompanied by Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti passed along Phitsanulok Road.

The motorcade drove slowly past protesters who shouted and raised the 3-finger salute. One person threw a bottle of water at the motorcade.

As a result of the confrontations, two protesters were charged under Section 110 of the Criminal Code for harming Her Majesty the Queen’s liberty. If found guilty, the two face 16-20 years in prison or life. They have denied any wrongdoing.

The occupation did not last long. The severe state of emergency was declared at 04.00 on 15 October. 40 minutes after that, police in riot gear retook the protest site at Government House. Several protest leaders were arrested. Military trucks full of soldiers were seen entering Government House.

The decree stated that as many people had mobilised in an unlawful public gathering in Bangkok, using many methods to cause unrest that affected public order and a royal procession. The protest was therefore an act affecting state security, public safety and private assets and lives and not a peaceful gathering as provided by the Thai constitution.

Gen Prawit Wongsuwan was designated to oversee matters related to the state of emergency.

Protesters drifted away in the morning to re-assemble at Ratchaprasong intersection in the evening. Another protest took place the next day and was dispersed by fully-equipped riot police with water cannon, the first such deployment in 2020. One Prachatai reporter was arrested among other protesters.

An order was issued by MDES to shut down Prachatai, the STANDARD, the Reporters, and Voice TV, which had reported the monarchy reform demands. The order was later dismissed by the courts.

The crackdown did not stop people from protesting. Gatherings of medium to large numbers formed at many key intersections. On 21 October, protesters marched from the Victory Monument, claiming to retake Government House. They passed through many police barricades as far as Chamai Maru Chet Bridge at the front of the Government House, submitted their demands to a representative of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Metropolitan Police Chief, and then dispersed.

Gen Prayut addressed the issue in a televised programme at 19.00 that evening, saying that each party should take one step back to solve the problem. The severe state of emergency was withdrawn on 22 October 2022.

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