Kamthong Somchai, a garbage recycler, and Samphao (last name withheld due to safety concerns), a motorcycle taxi driver, were both assaulted allegedly by guards of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) last week. Amid escalating tension after the PDRC occupied several intersections in Bangkok, they were attacked after the groups found membership cards of anti-establishment red-shirt groups.
Kamthong was assaulted on the morning of January 17, not far from the occupied Lat Phrao intersection. A day earlier, a few PDRC supporters had been injured after an attack by an unknown group. Although according to media reports the suspects were in a sedan which drove from Chatuchak Park, the person the PDRC guards caught was a garbage recycler.
Kamthong Somchai under treatment in hospital with laceration wound at right eyebrow
“I went to look for old stuff as usual. I went to that area very often. Someone had attacked the stage with a bomb, so they instructed the guards to patrol on motorcycles in a 1.5 kilometre radius. I was inside that area. I was wearing a backpack. They searched my bag and found a red shirt. I was immediately captured and taken backstage.”
Kamthong is a 50-year-old from Nakhon Phanom Province. He had several bruises on his body, a swollen face, and he has a laceration wound at right eyebrow.
“Searching for usable or recyclable stuff is not an ordinary job because I don’t need to invest anything, only my labour. I can sell the stuff for 600-700 baht, or sometimes 300 baht,” Khamthong said. “Although it’s trash, to me it’s cash.”
On the day he was assaulted, he went out with his wheelbarrow and his only property -- a bag pack with some clothes. He has to carry them around because he has no home.
“I have no home. Whatever clothes I have, I pack in my bag. That day I had a bad luck. [The guards] don’t usually patrol this far.”
What brought the bad luck was the red shirt in his backpack. The shirt he wore was in white with the text “We love Yingluck; we love Democracy” which he got for free a long time ago during an election campaign. They also found his member card for a red-shirt faction led by Ko Tee. That made him look like a hard-core red shirt to the PDRC guards.
Bruises on Kamthong’s body as a result of the assault and torture. The PDRC guards allegedly melted plastic so that the drops burned his body.
“I got this card because I helped them when they had a meeting or a rally,” said Kamthong. “I know about their activities because I listen to community radio. Most of the garbage recyclers usually know where demonstrations are held because they can get a free meal.”
Khamthong recalled the day he was tortured. He told the alleged guards that he had not entered the area to cause trouble, but no one listened to him.
They asked him if he was a red shirt, and he told them frankly that he has been a red-shirt supporter for “a long time”.
“They told me you shouldn’t have attacked the rally. They were a lot of Isan brothers and sisters. I said I didn’t do it. They didn’t believe me. They said I was a red shirt, I should have had some kind of ideology. Another person asked why I was against them. “Don’t you know soldiers are on my side? I am also a soldier” he said. From his build, it’s possible.”
“They were about five people and all of them were huge. I was kept backstage where only the guards can enter. I was there for half a day. They tied my arms behind my back. Someone with combat boots stepped on my face. Then they lit a piece of plastic so that the hot liquid dropped on my body. They tortured me until I lost consciousness again and again.”
It was not yet over.
“After that in the afternoon, I was taken to Chatuchak Park, where there was a group of five to six men. They talked about whether to kill me or let me go. It seemed they had done a background check on me. They may have thought I am not really a trouble maker. However, I was beaten up until I lost consciousness again. Then they released me at the back of Rot Fai Park.”
“I thought I would be killed. If I had died, I wouldn’t have had to be tortured.”
Kamthong Somchai in hospital. The photo was taken on January 20.
Around midnight, a PDRC supporter from Isan found him in the park and helped him to his tent before giving him 200 baht and two packs of food.
Because Kamthong had no family or relatives in Bangkok, he decided to take a bus to a red-shirt rally led by Ko Tee to get help. Ko Tee then sent him to hospital.
Another case concerns Samphao, a 40-something motorcycle taxi driver, whose area is around Ratchadamnoen. He is from the lower northeastern province of Surin. He has no family or relatives in Bangkok. He is a red-shirt supporter.
Prachatai visited him in hospital but he declined to answer any questions. His condition is rather serious because two of his left ribs were broken. The doctors had to make a hole on the side of his body to drain the blood clots. His left arm is still numb because he was kicked and given electric shocks. His face and body were swollen and bruised.
According to the statement that Samphao gave to the police, the incident started at around 7.30 pm on Jan 12 when Samphao was riding his motorcycle to Wat Ratchanadda, not far from Rachadamnoen Avenue, to avoid traffic jams on Ratchadamnoen. He found a group of alleged PDRC guards inside the temple compound. The group asked to inspect his ID card and asked if he was a red-shirt supporter. Samphao denied it.
The group also took his wallet, 850 baht in cash, a mobile phone, and his motorcycle. They took his ATM card and forced him to give them his ATM passwords. The alleged PDRC guards found a United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) membership card. The group then tied his arms behind his back and assaulted him. He was given electric shocks and beaten, breaking his ribs. The group repeatedly said “I’ll get all you red-shirts”. They asked him if he was a red spy, which Samphao denied, but the assault continued. They kicked his face and body until he passed out.
Samphao, with his face swollen and bruised, in hospital
At around 2 am on January 13, Samphao came to after water was splashed on his face. He was taken to the main PDRC stage at the Democracy Monument. When the guards saw that he was too injured to be shown on the stage, he was taken behind the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) office, not far from Ratchadamnoen. The group then assaulted him again. Someone said “If you can’t take it, then get into the water.” Samphao then decided to hide in the canal next to the BMA office.
Around 5 am, someone threw a solid object and oil into the canal where he was hiding. They missed him because he hid under the water. A policeman then passed by and helped send him to hospital.
Samphao is still being treated in hospital. A Red Comrades group is volunteering to take care of him.