Protest against pandemic mishandling again met with police violence

A protest on Saturday (7 August) against the government’s mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic was met with water cannon trucks and crowd control police armed with rubber bullets and tear gas, despite the target location being switched.

Crowd control police in full riot gear lining up on Ratchadamneon Avenue. 

The protest was organized by the activist group Free Youth and partner organizations, who have made three demands: the resignation of Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the reallocation of the budget for the monarchy and military to Covid-19 assistance, and replacement of the Sinovac Covid-19 vaccine with mRNA vaccines.

Free Youth previously organized a protest on 18 July 2021 with the same three demands, which was also blocked by armed crowd control police.

Saturday’s protest began at the Democracy Monument with a plan to march to the Grand Palace. By 12.00, 2 hours ahead of the scheduled start time at 14.00, around a hundred protesters had begun gathering at the Democracy Monument but were faced by lines of crowd control police blocking Ratchadamneon Avenue.

Crowd control police on Ratchadamneon Avenue carrying shields and rubber bullet firearms. 

At 12.25, the police ordered the protesters to end their gathering and crowd control police began to advance on the protesters. There were reports that rubber bullets were used and that 2 protesters were arrested.

A firecracker-like sound was heard at the scene. Protesters were also reportedly shooting slingshots and throwing glass bottles and rocks at the crowd control police marching towards the Democracy Monument.

Activist Thatchapong Kaedam then announced that the target of the march had changed to Government House. By 12.40, crowd control police had taken over Ratchadamneon Avenue, as protesters began marching towards Government House. Officers were seen wearing bulletproof vests and carrying cable ties, batons, and shields. Some are also carrying rubber bullet firearms.

Rows of containers blocking the street at the Nang Leong Intersection

The protesters arrived at the Nang Leong intersection at around 13.00 and found the road blocked with a row of containers. The organisers switched the target to the Victory Monument. Free Youth also announced on their Telegram channel for the protesters to meet at the Victory Monument before marching to the 1st Infantry Regiment headquarters.

At 13.45, protesters at the Nang Leong Intersection began marching to the Victory Monument and from there to the 1st Infantry Regiment headquarters, where PM Prayut lives in free army housing.

Protesters gathering at the Victory Monument preparing to head to the 1st Infantry Regiment headquarters.

However, they once again found the Asok-Din Daeng Road closed by crowd control police between the Din Daeng intersection and the 1st Infantry Regiment headquarters, which the police declared a no-entry zone. The police ordered the protesters back to the Victory Monument.

During the clash, an order was heard that the officers were allowed to use rubber bullets if protesters approached the police lines.

The clash continued for another two hours, during which rubber bullets and tear gas were continuously fired at the protesters. At around 17.20, water cannon were also used.

The protesters were forced to retreat to the Victory Monument, while tear gas continued to be fired near Rajavithi Hospital. The organisers announced the end of the protest at 17.35.

Tear gas being fired at protesters at the Din Daeng Intersection

However, clashes continued at the Victory Monument, as crowd control police continued to fire tear gas at remaining protesters. There were also reports that tear gas was fired from the skywalk above the monument, while water cannon blasts were reported as crowd control police moved into the roundabout. Clashes continued until around 21.00.

Meanwhile, at the Din Daeng intersection, crowd control police were still firing rubber bullets at remaining protesters at around 21.00.

Wasan Paileeklee

Several National Human Rights Commissioners were observing the protest both from the protesters’ side and the police side. Commissioner Wasan Paileeklee said that the National Human Rights Commission wanted to see whether the event was orderly and whether police operations followed the proper guidelines. Regarding violations of the right to freedom of expression, Wasan said that even though there might be a legal framework supporting the police’s operation, their actions must be proportional.

Activists harassed by officers ahead of protest

Police officers searched several activists’ homes ahead of the protest. Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported on Saturday morning (7 August) that 3 plainclothes officers and 1 uniformed officer searched activist Chukiat “Justin” Sangwong’s apartment at 7.30 on Saturday. Chukiat said that the officers also asked to see his computer, but he refused, and he was told that he would be charged if he shared images of the search warrant. 

TLHR said that 3 plainclothes officers and 1 uniformed officer also searched the home of a Thammasat University student in Pathum Thani.

Activist Piyarat Chongthep said that at least 2 members of the We Volunteer protest guard group were followed by police officers who tried to search their houses ahead of this afternoon's protest. Officers also came to We Volunteer’s headquarters, and Piyarat later told TLHR that around 10 officers were stationed in front of the building and that he could be arrested if he leave to join the protest.

Piyarat also said that 2 members of the We Volunteer protest guard group had been arrested at a friend's house in Nonthaburi on Friday night (6 August). The house was also searched and the 2 detainees were later released after nothing illegal was found.

TLHR reported that over 15 police officers also raided the residence of a We Volunteer member on Saturday morning (7 August), claiming that they had received a report of illegal activities. They took them at least 3 people to the police station and confiscated their car and mobile phones. Police also tried to confiscate a styrofoam box containing palm fruit with syrup brought by one of the detainees for sale. No search warrant was presented.

Activist Parit Chiwarak also said on Friday night (6 August) that police officers were stationed in front of his house and did not seem to be leaving, therefore he might not be able to leave for the protest.

Protest march route blocked with oil tankers

Oil tankers blocking the route to the Grand Palace

Shopping containers and oil tankers were placed across Sanam Luang on Saturday morning to block the original route of the march to the Grand Palace. A banner saying “The king’s soldiers and the police of the (good) people have joined forces, ready to protect Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace” was hung from the containers. Rachini Road and Ratchadamnoen Klang Road were also closed.

TLHR later published a letter from Assistant Police Commissioner Pol Lt Gen Kraiboon Suadsong to the State Railway of Thailand requesting the use of decommissioned train cars and oil tankers to prevent activities risking the spread of Covid-19.

The State Railway Workers’ Union of Thailand (SRUT) then issued a statement calling for decommissioned rolling stock not to be used as barriers, and for an investigation to be launched into how the train cars were taken. They also expressed their disagreement with the use of the train cars, as the right to peaceful assembly is enshrined in the Constitution and international human rights law.

The SRUT said that there is a risk that dangerous objects could be placed in the cars and oil tankers, potentially causing harm. The SRUT also expressed concern that the use of the rolling stock would lead the public to believe that the SRUT and the State Railway was complying with orders from politicians or acting voluntarily, causing conflict with those in opposition to the government.

The statement said that considering the history of popular movements, barriers would not be able to hold the tide of the uprising, and therefore the government should not try to cause more conflict, and that the government should try to resolve the situation by solving the issues which are the root cause of the protests.

At least 18 people arrested

TLHR reported that at least 18 people were arrested before and during Saturday’s protest. 14 people were taken to the Metropolitan Police Headquarters, 4 to the Border Patrol Police Region 1 headquarters and 1 to the Khlong Ha Police Station.

A protester was arrested at the Democracy Monument (Photo from iLaw)

TLHR also said that 2 protesters arrested at the Democracy Monument were taken to the Metropolitan Police headquarters. Their hands were tied with cable ties, and one of them has signs of being assaulted while in detention.

TLHR later reported that police officers also arrested the driver of a van carrying 4 speakers after the protest, pushing him to the ground before taking him to Provincial Police Region 1 headquarters. TLHR was later informed that the driver was not at the Provincial Police Region 1 and it is not known where he or the van is.

The van was also reported to belong to the We Volunteer protest guard group, who said that they lost contact with the driver since 18.45.

TLHR lawyers later found the driver detained at the Border Patrol Police Region 1 headquarters along with 2 other people.

A protester arrested at the Democracy Monument was tied up with cable ties

At 23.20, TLHR reported that they have been notified that officers from Wang Thong Lang Police Station arrested the driver of a truck, along with 4 other people, who were returning from the protest.

Another person was also arrested around the Din Daeng Highway while driving past the protest site and was taken to Din Daeng Police Station. They were later taken to the Metropolitan Police headquarters along with 2 other people. As of 00.35, 14 people are being detained at the Metropolitan Police headquarters.

8 We Volunteer members arrested before the protest were charged with being members of a secret society under Sections 209 and 210 of the Thai Criminal Code, while the remaining 10 people were charged with violating the Emergency Decree.

The inquiry officer will be filing a temporary detention request via video conference today (9 August).

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