Activists sue police over APEC protest crackdown

Activists and protesters have filed a complaint against crowd control police for the violent dispersal of the 18 November anti-government protest march which left many injured and led to the arrest of 25 people.  

Anon Nampa (white shirt, second from left) and other activists filed a complaint against crowd control police for the violent dispersal of the 18 November protest.

On 18 November, protesters and activists set out on a march from Lan Khon Muang square in front of the Bangkok City Hall to the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre, where the APEC meetings were taking place at the time, to protest what they see as the Thai government’s attempt to boost its legitimacy on the international stage and the lack of participation from civil society in determining policies being proposed at APEC meetings. They also spoke out against the Bio-Circular-Green Economy Model (BCG), raising concerns that the model would worsen community right issues facing marginalized and vulnerable groups, would take away their resources and land, and is an attempt at greenwashing the country’s major corporations with its carbon credit model.

However, as they were approaching the Democracy Monument, the protesters were stopped on Dinso Road by units of crowd control police. Twice, the police forcibly dispersed the protesters, leaving many injured, including one who was shot in the eye with a rubber bullet. At least five members of the press were injured, including a Reuters photographer who had a glass bottle thrown at her head from behind the police lines. 25 people were arrested during the two crackdowns, including a citizen journalist from The Isaan Record.

On Saturday (19 November), human rights lawyer Anon Nampa, along with other activists, went to Samranrat Police Station to file a complaint against the crowd control police and any other officers responsible for misconduct, physical assault causing injuries, and physical assault causing serious injuries such as loss of sight.

The activists also requested that the inquiry officer summon documents and witnesses to be used as evidence, including the action plan for controlling the 18 November protest, a list of all officers on duty in the protest, a list of all officers authorized to use a rubber bullets or tear gas, and information on which agency took out rubber bullets, rubber bullet guns, and tear gas guns, how many pieces of this equipment were signed out and how many were returned.  

Anon said that since the complaint was filed against the Superintendent of Samranrat Police Station, the commander of the Metropolitan Police division 6 accepted the complaint and said that a committee will be formed to investigate the crackdown, since it would not be appropriate for Samranrat police to investigate a complaint filed against them.

Although previous attempts to press charges against police officers have been difficult, Anon said there is enough evidence, including photos and video clips, showing that the crowd control police action was excessive, and he believes they are likely to be successful with their complaint.

Despite claims by police spokesperson Pol Maj Achayon Kraithong that the use of rubber bullets was within the legal limits, and that the police dispersed protesters because they threw rocks and other objects at the police and destroyed a police truck, Anon said that the police did not announce that they would be using rubber bullets before they began firing. Bullets were also aimed at head level, leading to eye injuries for one protester. 

He said that there were instances where a protester or member of the press fell and were then assaulted by the police, and that even though protesters were really throwing things, the police do not have the right to assault them.

Anon said he wanted to set a new standard to control the police’s use of force against protesters, noting that officers have always gotten away with unlawful methods of dispersing protests and that he wants the police to be held accountable when they break the law.

The human rights lawyer said that crowd control officers need to change their attitude and understand that their duty is not to control or arrest protesters but to facilitate the exercise of freedom of expression. He also called on media organizations to speak out for their own benefit, as several reporters were injured during the crackdown.

Activist Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul was also among the group who went to Samranrat Police Station to file their complaint. She said that she did not expect the police to be violent to the point of blinding someone, and that she was shocked by it. She noted that the police might only be acting on orders, but called on them to use their discretion so that such an incident does not happen again.

Activists filing a petition with representatives of the House Committee on Political Development, Mass Communications and Public Participation.

The activists also went to parliament on Monday (21 November) to file a complaint with the House Committee on Political Development, Mass Communications and Public Participation, calling for an investigation into the crackdowns. They also called on the House Committee to summon all officers involved, such as the Superintendent of Samranrat Police Station, in whose jurisdiction the crackdowns took place, the Metropolitan Police chief, and the Prime Minister, to testify on what happened.

Baramee Chaiyarat, advisor for the activist group Assembly of the Poor and one of the 25 people arrested during the 18 November crackdowns, said that since the protest leaders had notified the authorities of the protest as required by law, the police did not have the authority to stop the march, and that the police are required to get a court order to disperse a protest, which they did not do. Their use of violence was also not proportional to what the protesters were doing, Baramee said.  

Move Forward Party MP and committee member Nattacha Boonchaiinsawat said that the committee will discuss the crackdowns on Thursday (24 November), and will summon related agencies for questioning. He also noted that members of the press who were injured during the crackdown will submit evidence to the committee before the meeting.

Meanwhile, Anon told The Reporters after the activists filed their petition that they now have a list of 170 officers involved in the crackdown, and that they are still trying to identify the officers who fired rubber bullets at close range and at above waist level.

He said that the authorities must be held accountable for their actions whether they are a commanding officer or an operative, and the police headquarters must also take responsibility since their actions were extreme and affected protesters, bystanders, and members of the press. He also noted that media outlets should press charges because officers who assaulted members of the press who have clearly identified themselves as such might have intentionally targetted field reporters covering the protests.

Anon said that the activists will press both civil and criminal charges against the responsible officers, and will also file complaints with other organizations, such as the National Human Rights Commission and the National Anti-Corruption Commission.

On Tuesday morning (22 November), the online news agency The Matter, whose reporter was beaten by crowd control police while livestreaming the protest, filed a court challenge against the police. It asked the Civil Court to summon police commanders to testify on the violence against reporters covering the 18 November protest and to rule whether the police failed to obey an injunction issued in August 2021 ordering the police to exercise caution and refrain from committing violence against the media in its crowd control operations.  The Civil Court has accepted the petition, but no decision has been reached. 

Advertisements

Since 2007, Prachatai English has been covering underreported issues in Thailand, especially about democratization and human rights, despite the risk and pressure from the law and the authorities. However, with only 2 full-time reporters and increasing annual operating costs, keeping our work going is a challenge. Your support will ensure we stay a professional media source and be able to expand our team to meet the challenges and deliver timely and in-depth reporting.

• Simple steps to support Prachatai English

1. Bank transfer to account “โครงการหนังสือพิมพ์อินเทอร์เน็ต ประชาไท” or “Prachatai Online Newspaper” 091-0-21689-4, Krungthai Bank

2. Or, Transfer money via Paypal, to e-mail address: service@prachatai.com, please leave a comment on the transaction as “For Prachatai English”