Students rally against state violence, culture of impunity

The student activist group Nisit Chula Party held a rally last Thursday (29 October) to speak out against the violence committed by the state against dissenting voices and the culture of impunity which means preparators often are never brought to justice.

A student sitting on a red chair, white ribbons tied to her hands and arms

The rally was held at the Pathumwan Skywalk and was originally scheduled for 17.00, but was then pushed back to 18.00 as there was a royal motorcade passing through the area.

During the event, several students sat on a red chair, to which they are tied with white ribbons with the message “แก้ได้ถ้าแก้รัฐธรรมนูญ” (“It can be fixed if we amend the constitution”). The organizers explained that this activity is symbolic of how the state has always used violence against dissenters, something which also happened during the police crackdown on 16 October, during which a reporter was arrested for trying to document the crackdown and had his hands tied at his back for two hours with cable ties.

Another student has a white ribbon tied around his mouth

Mindmint, a member of the Nisit Chula Party, gave a speech about the authorities’ use of force to crack down on the Pathumwan intersection protest on 16 October and the use of the Emergency Decree to press charges against protest leaders and participants since the crackdown on the protest at the Government House in the early morning of 15 October.

She said that she was very angry that the authorities used water cannons against protesters, who had to run into the Chulalongkorn University campus, which was designated a safe zone. Many students were looking for water to wash off the water from the cannons, which was laced with chemical irritants. There were older people who were lost and couldn’t get home because all public transport was closed. She also mentioned that one of her upperclassmen was also arrested, and that the authorities has yet to explain their use of force on peaceful protesters and what chemical was used in the water.

Mindmint

She said that state violence has many forms, such as use of force, legal prosecution, and impunity, and no one knows when these things will end. She said that the rally was held so that people won’t forget what happened in the past, from the 2010 crackdown on the Red Shirt protests, to the 16 October 2020 crackdown, Wanchalearm Satsaksit’s disappearance, judge Kunakorn Pienchana’s suicide, the death of Chaiyaphum Pasae, the 2004 Krue Se Mosque incident, the 6 October 1976 Thammasat University massacre, and the ‘Red Drum’ murders of Communist suspects during the era of Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn (1963-73). She said that these things are part of the violence committed by state authorities, who get away with what they have done, and that everyone is imprisoned in a country where the law forbids criticism of the monarchy and the media is restricted by the state.

“Intimidation by the state is in our every breath, and only we can break free of the bonds of this rotten state,” Mindmint said.

Chaiamorn “Ammy” Kaewwiboonpan

Chaiamorn “Ammy” Kaewwiboonpan, lead singer of the pop band The Bottom Blues, spoke about his arrest on 13 October and asked that participants not forget about those who are still imprisoned. He also speculated that his release along with Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa could only be a ruse from the authorities’ part to defuse the situation.

Chaiamorn said that the event at the Democracy Monument on 13 October was a preparation for the mass protest the next day (14 October) and was attended by protesters who travelled to Bangkok from other provinces. He said that he and Jatupat were looking after protesters, and that they did not obstruct traffic or block a royal motorcade, as they only set up their speakers in front of the nearby McDonald’s. However, he said that the officer who came to negotiate with them said that they did not want to see anything on the footpath, and that they used 3 units of police to break up a group of around 30 activists.

Chaiamorn said that every officer who came to stop the protest had covered their name tags with a piece of black cloth, and that 6 officers beat up one of the activists before detaining them. He said that there is evidence, as many reporters were present at the scene. He said that he went after his friends and tried to plead with the police not to use force, but he was also dragged off to the police vehicle and was also beaten. The officers also did not tell them where they were being taken and or they were being charged with, and they were held for several hours without being allowed to see a lawyer. They were taken to court in the morning, and were then detained at the Bangkok Remand Prison.

“You may have already seen how broken the justice system is, but don’t be discouraged just yet. We will take back that victory, so we can change things. We will do our best. If it doesn’t end in my generation, then I would like it to end in yours, and if not in your generation, then in our children’s generation. The saying ‘let it end in our generation’ is an eternity. It is unending. We may be the first seeds, but it won’t be for nothing. Believe me, everyone sitting here today won’t be for nothing. I call the fight of everyone a sacrifice. Sacrifice here does not mean that I would like to take a royal bullet or anything like that. It’s sacrificing our jobs, our social life, everything so that we can stand here today. I understand how high the cost it,” said Chaiamorn.

Wannakiat Chusuwan

Wannakiat Chusuwan, a member of the Resistant Citizen group, was present during the 2010 crackdown on the Red Shirt protests. He said that the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) did not accept the way the government of then-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva came into power, and that even after the first crackdown in April 2009, protesters still came back to call for the dissolution of parliament. He said that even after the 10 April 2010 crackdown, during which state authorities used tear gas and real bullets on protesters, killing over 20 people, the Red Shirt protesters continued to escalate their demands, calling not only for the dissolution of parliament but also for those involved with the crackdown to be brought to justice.

Wannakiat said that the government then began to create a narrative of the Red Shirts being an armed group to justify their use of real bullets, armoured vehicles, and snipers during the May 2010 crackdown on the protest at Ratchaprasong, followed by a narrative of the Red Shirts burning down buildings, even though the smoke seen in news footage came from burning car tires to block the snipers and the Central World fire started after the crackdown ended and the military had already taken control of the area. He also mentioned that the person who was charged with setting fire to the Khon Kaen City Hall was also shot and was still charged.

Kwanrawee Wang-Udom

Kwanrawee Wang-Udom, an academic who once worked at the People’s Information Centre: April – May 2010 Crackdowns (PIC), said that the recent crackdown on the 16 October protest at the Pathumwan intersection reminded her of the 2010 crackdowns, and that there could be many who feel the same. She said that she can no longer stay silent and felt must speak at the 29 October rally.  

Kwanrawee said that a friend of hers was reminded of the 2010 crackdowns during the march to the German Embassy, that seeing people on the tall buildings made them think of snipers, and seeing photographers on the Thai-Japanese Bridge reminded them of soldiers. She also said that reports of the 16 October crackdown also used the term “closing the space”, which also referred to a crackdown and reminded her of the reports of the 2010 crackdowns. She said that reporters use terms like “closing the space” and “reclaiming the space”, which sounded casual, but these terms refer to the use of force to crack down on protesters, which caused injuries and death.

Kwanrawee has interviewed both the protesters injured during the 2010 crackdowns and military personnel, and she said that she has seen evidence that shows whether the authorities’ use of force follow international guidelines. She said that the state seems to have learned nothing, as the use of water cannons against unarmed protesters is an excessive use of force and that some of the officers themselves also got hit with the water cannons.

“I’m talking about these flashbacks because the reminders from these events are the reasons I am here today to speak about what happened in the past. These reminders are not just a reflection of the state of the society in which we grew up or that we experienced, but may lead us to imagine the social conditions that the older generation may have also experienced but never known about. These reminders also tell us about this society, how there might be something that happened without us knowing, that we never see, that we cannot see with our eyes alone, but it is buried deep somewhere in society. It is something that is waiting for us to understand, waiting for us to clear up and change, something that needs to be told in this society, which is full of wounds,” said Kwanrawee. 

Abdulloh Sideh

Abdulloh Sideh from the Muslim Students Federation of Thailand (MUSTFETH) spoke about the incident at Tak Bai on 25 October 2004, in which the authorities used force to break up a protest and the subsequent arrest of protesters, who were stacked on top of one another in trucks as they were transported to a military base in Pattani, causing at least 85 people to die from suffocation. He said that, even though an inquiry found that these people died from suffocation, but the perpetrators were never named even though the people know who caused the Tak Bai incident, and that it is a crime committed by the state.

“We don’t remember out of anger, but we cannot forget because we have never received justice,” Abdulloh said. “We don’t want it to happen not only in the three provinces, but we don’t want it to happen anywhere, in any province, to anyone in this country.”

He said that even though people subsequently received payment as compensation, this is not something that the people have to ask for, as it is the state’s job and because the state sets the conditions and is the cause of the problem. He said that what the people demanded was justice, but the state never gave it to them, causing disappointment with the kind of judicial system that doesn’t care about the people, while the state continue to harass the people. He mentioned that state officials can identify people holding signs in memory of the Tak Bai incident, but not the perpetrators of the incident, and even threatened people in the area by taking samples of their DNA even though they were not criminals.

“I believe that no Thai people have ever received a democratic constitution,” Abdulloh said of the issues with the state’s power structure. “There are problems in the three provinces because the constitution does not support solutions to these problems. It is not a democratic constitution but has elements of dictatorship. If the constitution is not amended, the country’s problems will stay the same and will not be fixed.”

Nutchapakorn Nummueng (Picture from iLaw)

iLaw’s Nutchapakorn Nummueng spoke on the constitutional amendments and how they might end state violence. He compared the murder of Lahu human rights activist Chaiyaphum Pasae and the case of the 6 people who were killed at Wat Pathum Wanaram during the 19 May 2010 crackdown, and said that both are similar in that the military was never investigated and no one was prosecuted for the crime. He mentioned how the military and the courts have never been reformed, and how the courts cannot be criticized and that those who do so, such as student activist Parit Chiwarak, face legal prosecution, and said that these things are various forms of state violence which continue to happen.

Nutchapakorn also talked about the idea of transitional justice, an idea that was discussed in many countries that were once authoritarian dictatorships. He said that he once believed that transition requires work on gathering information about state violence in order to bring those responsible to justice, but he said that there is now a lot of information about the 6 October 1976 Thammasat University Massacre or the 2010 protest crackdowns, and that he now thinks that what we are missing is not information but a state which respects the people – something we have never had.

“The proposal is that we must create power that is founded in the people as the supreme power in this country. As long as the people cannot control the government, the parliament, or independent organisations, we will only have injustice,” he said. “So in the short term, we have to pressure the government into passing the people’s draft constitutional amendments. Our job is to reject the government’s draft, so that we will get a constitutional drafting council that is 100% elected, and we must insist that every article of the constitution can be amended, because Chapters 1 and 2 have been amended in the past, unlike what they claim, which is that these two chapters cannot be amended. Finally, I think to get there, it requires the power of everyone together.”

Yanisa Varaksapong (centre)

Yanisa Varaksapong, a student of the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, then read a statement from the group, which stated that, due to the state’s illegitimate use of power which goes against international human rights principles, such as during the crackdown on the peaceful protest at the Pathumwan intersection on 16 October, as well as violence committed in the past, the group demands that the government drops all charges against the protesters; that it respects human rights, especially freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly; that it supports the people’s draft constitutional amendment; and that any government official who came into office unlawfully must immediately resign.

Protesters singing Jit Phumisak's song "Starlight of Faith" before the rally ended. 

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