Members of the We Volunteer protest guard group were arrested on Monday night (7 December) after they went to the Uruphong intersection to clear the razor wire left by the police.
One of the volunteers detained in a police vehicle (Photo from Piyarat Chongtep)
Activist and We Volunteer leader Piyarat “Toto” Chongtep and 18 other We Volunteer staff were arrested at around 23.00 last night, after they went to the Uruphong intersection to collect the razor wire left there by the police.
The group announced that they came to collect the wire because they had received complaints from people in the neighbourhood that the razor wire was left scattered around the area, making it hard for them to move about.
While they were collecting the wire, a unit of police officers surrounded them. Pol Col Attawit Saisueb, Deputy Chief of Metropolitan Police Division 1, came to negotiate with the group and told them to leave the razor wire and railings on the sidewalk, but Piyarat said that they would be collecting the wire and the railings themselves, as other We Volunteer staff formed a line to block the police.
Razor wire gathered by the volunteers
Piyarat said that people in the neighbourhood had contacted the group on their Facebook page and informed them about the wire, and that they had already announced in public that they would be coming to collect the wire at 21.00, and that if the police didn’t come to take the wire away, they would collect the wire and returning them.
Pol Col Attawit told them that the police would charge them with theft, so Piyarat said that they will file a complaint in return that the police wrongfully exercised, or failed to exercise their duty.
At around 22.40, the police announced that the wire belongs to the authorities and those who are not involved must leave the area in 5 minutes. The activists were arrested around 20 minutes later.
A woman who lives nearby told Prachatai that the razor wire had been left behind since the last protest march passed through the intersection. She said that the wire caused problems for the neighbourhood, as it blocked the alleyway, and that people in the neighbourhood had told officers about the wire, but the officers told them that their commanders wanted the wires to be placed there.
She also pointed out injuries to her arms and legs and said that she often got cut by the razor wire while walking past the area to go to the market, and that she was happy that the volunteers came to collect the wire.
“The kids have not stolen anything. They are collecting it. People here are all having trouble, and they’re charging the kids with stealing. That’s not what it is. I’ll be their witness,” she said.
Police officers arriving at the scene (Photo from Piyarat Chongtep)
After their arrest, the group was taken to the Phaya Thai Police Station. The police initially said that the group would be separated and that some would be taken to Huaikwang and Talingchan police stations for further questioning. However, all 19 people were held at Phaya Thai Police Station and not transferred elsewhere.
Volunteer lawyers from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) went to the police station, but were reportedly blocked for 20 minutes before being allowed into the station.
After it was reported that the group was arrested, the student activist group United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration posted on their Facebook page calling an urgent demonstration in front of Phaya Thai Police Station.
The protesters dispersed themselves at around 2.00 after the police announced that all of the arrests will be processed at Phaya Thai Police Station and will not be transferred to other police stations and that everyone will be released.
TLHR also reported that 2 of those arrested received minor injuries during their arrest. Decha (pseudonym), 21, told TLHR he was dragged by plainclothes police officers, held in a chokehold and pushed to the ground, and then handcuffed. He also said that he was kicked in the face while held to the ground, and that when they arrived at Phaya Thai Police Station, other members of the team, who were not handcuffed, and their supporters who came to the police station pressured the police to remove his handcuffs.
Narongchai (pseudonym), 31, said that they arrived at the scene at around 22.00 to help out after seeing We Volunteer’s Facebook page. As they arrived, they saw police officers surrounding the group, so they went to help blocking the officers, but were dragged away by the police. They said that they were also punched in the face and neck before being taken into a police vehicle.
Metropolitan Police Chief Pol Lt Gen Phukphong Phongpetra said earlier on Tuesday (8 December) that the group was charged with holding an assembly of 10 or more people and resisting or obstructing an officer in the line of duty. He also said that they have not charged the group with theft, but that they are compiling evidence, and will file more charges if any are found.
TLHR reported that everyone who was arrested was released at 5.20 on 8 December, and that they were also charged with not dispersing an assembly after receiving an official order. The group denied the charges, and was ordered to report to the inquiry officer on 28 December.