Two reporters have filed a lawsuit against the Royal Thai Police, after they were injured with rubber bullets while covering the 18 July 2021 protest.
Crowd control police firing tear gas at protesters during the 18 July 2021 protest
Plus Seven reporter Thanapong Kengpaiboon and a photographer from The Matter, whose name is withheld, went to the Civil Court on Ratchadapisek Road on 6 August to file a lawsuit against the Royal Thai Police, Commissioner Pol Gen Suwat Jangyodsuk, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Pol Lt Gen Phukphong Phongpetra, and Protection and Crowds Control Division Commander Pol Maj Gen Manop Sukonthanapat for unlawful dispersal of the protest on 18 July 2021 by firing rubber bullets and intentionally using excessive force to disperse the protest.
According to the Human Rights Lawyers Alliance, the officers’ actions caused injuries to the two reporters and violated press freedom, which is protected by the Thai Constitution and international law. The use of force against working journalists can also be considered an attempt to cause fear among members of the press to prevent them from performing their duties, even though they have the right to report information to the public – a right protected by the Thai Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The officers’ targeting of working journalists is therefore unconstitutional, violates international human rights law, and is a severe violation of press freedom.
The two reporters are suing for 1,412,000 baht in compensation from the police for the injuries caused by the officers’ actions, as well as court and lawyers’ fees. The police must also issue a public apology to journalists affected by the use of force and members of the public, and declare that they will not use force against journalists or attempt to prevent journalists from doing their duties.
The three police commanders must also order the officers under their command to follow international human rights principles on using non-lethal weapons, and to disclose the names of the officers who fired at the journalists.
They are also asking the court for an emergency temporary injunction prohibiting the police from using violence against working journalists and dispersing protests with methods that contravene international principles.
The court accepted the lawsuit against the Royal Thai Police, but dismissed the lawsuit against the three police commanders, as they are exempted under the 1996 Act on Liability on Wrongful Act of Officials.
The court also denied the temporary injunction request on the ground that the request is made based on prediction of future events, which is uncertain, and therefore is not an emergency.
Thanapong was hit in the hip with a rubber bullet while covering the clash between protesters and crowd control police at the Phan Fa Lilat intersection at around 15.50. The photographer was hit in the left arm while covering the protest on the street opposite the Rachawinit School.
Both Thanapong and the photographer said that they were visibly wearing the press armband issued by the Thai Journalists Association (TJA), which has been used to identify field reporters covering protests since 2020. Thanapong also said that the police issued no warning before firing rubber bullets.
They also said that the protesters were not violent at the time they were shot, but the police fired at them indiscriminately, and that they believe the police intentionally targeted journalists. A protester was also injured under the eye from a rubber bullet.
Peerapong Pongnak, a Matichon TV photographer, was also shot in the arm with a rubber bullet while covering the march to Government House via Ratchadamneon Avenue, which was blocked by crowd control police and water cannon trucks.
The 18 July 2021 protest started at the Democracy Monument before marching to Government House to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the reduction of the budget for the monarchy and military to increase Covid-19 assistance, and replacement of the Sinovac vaccine with mRNA vaccines. However, protesters were met with crowd control police armed with rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannon trucks. They were blocked from reaching Government House and gathered at the Nang Loeng intersection to burn mock body bags and a figure of Gen Prayut before announcing the conclusion of the protest.