The Silencing of the Din Daeng Crackdown

An interview of a lawyer, a severely beaten protester and an arrested citizen media over what happened in one of the most brutal night raid at Din Daeng Intersection.

File photo (credit: Maew Som)

On the evening of 6 October 2021, the news of the riot policeman who was in a coma after being shot through his helmet was widely reported. But many events of that night remain blurry, including the string of raids and attacks on protestors. The media were not permitted to report what happened, but those arrested have not erased the facts from their memories.

“I used to use my camera to take art photos. But now, if the agents of the state are using violence against my brothers and sisters, against my home, I think everyone needs to know. Everyone needs to know what the state is doing in Din Daeng, everyone needs to know what the state is covering up. I will make it known,” Admin Ninja said.

Admin Ninja: I will make known what the state covers up

On the evening of 6 October 2021, Admin Ninja, an independent journalist, arrived in the area at around 8 pm after hearing news that the police were preparing a strike to start things off at Din Daeng intersection. He scouted for a spot to record video of the events with other journalists.

But while they were deciding where to station themselves, there was a loud ‘bang.’ When he turned in the direction of the sound, he saw a rapid deployment unit advancing out of Soi Mitrmaitri as protestors fought back by setting off firecrackers.

Admin Ninja ran to cross over to Soi Ton Pho and began a live broadcast of the events.  Only a few minutes passed and a SWAT team was quickly on the move from Victory Monument to carry out an assault on the protestors. They told the media to leave the area and gather under the expressway at Din Daeng intersection. Once the journalists are pushed out of an area, it also means that the eyes and ears of the people are covered. This was unacceptable to him.

As the other journalists were walking to assemble as ordered, he crept stealthily to keep recording video from another corner of Soi Ton Pho. What he saw were the police arresting everyone in the lane without any regard for whether they were protestors or just residents of the area. Not long after, state officials came to warn him and push him out of the area. But since he is from Din Daeng and knows every lane and alley, it was not difficult for him to creep back in to keep observing.  

“If I went along and stood with the media who were herded to Din Daeng intersection, no one would be left to perform the duty of the media to record what was taking place. So I got on my motorcycle and took a route that only people who live here know about. But once I parked, police came to search me and asked for my various media documents. All I had then was a PRESS armband. Since arresting journalists was not their objective, the police were not particularly interested in me and I was able to follow them to the lane where the riot policeman had been injured.”

As he followed the policemen, he tried to make himself unremarkable by draping the camera that was live broadcasting around his neck. Not long after, an ambulance came to take away the injured riot policeman. A high-ranking police officer then walked up and became displeased once he realized that Admin Ninja had been secretly recording. So he ordered the police to arrest and search him. They took him to a paddy wagon parked in front of Flat 1, which already held protestors arrested earlier.

“I chose to go record the events because everything should be recorded, and at that time, no media outlets were recording video. Plus, Din Daeng is my home. I am a resident. My family was born here. We are all brothers and sisters. If people in the area do not look after each other, if we do not see our worth, it is difficult to call on others to see our worth. All I want is to look after my home and protect people. We have to inform ordinary people about what happened that day. The police are meant to be the ones who look after the law and the country. Given their actions that day, do they really do so or not?”

His firm conviction in his duty as a journalist meant that he saw the physical assaults the police carried out on people as they arrested them. He saw the indiscriminate arrest of people without the police asking if they were involved in the youth protests or not.

“Some people had only gone out to buy fried chicken and sticky rice. It was around 10 pm then. It’s normal for people to go out to buy something to eat in the neighborhood near their home. They just went to buy fried chicken and sticky rice and got trampled upon. They went to buy bread with condensed milk and got beaten up and clubbed until blood ran from their heads. Another person was sitting in front of a shop drowning his sorrows in a beer after arguing and breaking up with his girlfriend. He was kicked off his stool and beaten with a club.”

If you think that this is already very grave, you have to realize that the physical assault while people were arrested was only one part of the events of that night for which the cameras were shrouded and did not record. Upon being arrested, people were put in the paddy wagon to be taken to the police station. They never imagined what would happen on the way, which was to be yanked down from the vehicle by their heads and beaten up again.

This took place in the dead of night on a road linking Phaholyothin and Vibhavadi Rangsit Roads, near the Veterans’ Hospital. No one passed by.

After Admin Ninja was arrested, the police took him to the paddy wagon. Once a fair number of people were arrested, they were going to be taken to the police station. But once the vehicle began to move, it went in the direction of an area between the Royal Thai Army Band Department and the Veterans’ Hospital. The vehicle stopped. Many tens of riot police were waiting outside.

Those in the vehicle were told they were going to be searched again. But the search began with pulling people down from the vehicle one by one by their heads. They were stripped of all their possessions, including their wallets and mobile phones. Their passwords were compelled by force and the police checked whom they had called and what messages they exchanged and with whom. All they while they were beaten and profanity that degraded their human dignity was hurled at them..

He had the sense that his PRESS armband did him some good. When he came down from the vehicle, he saw a high-ranking officer whom he had encountered before. The officer pulled him aside so he would not be beaten like the others.

“They took off everything I was wearing  —mask, shoes, and hat — and searched it all. The search was entertaining for them. They ridiculed me as they searched me. They mocked my status as a journalist. They asked for my press card, and I told them that my organization only has the armband. They laughed and said they would go buy a PRESS armband tomorrow and be journalists too.”

“More than that, they brought those arrested down from the vehicle one-by-one. They pulled them down by their hair. Punched them. Slapped them. Beat them up. One by one. They they were pushed together in the middle of the road and the police rushed at them and beat them all over again. As they were beating them, the officials screamed at them, ‘Do you know what happened to my friend? Do you know?’

“One youth was beaten until he could not take it and held his hands up in a wai (a gesture of begging for mercy). The official said, go wai your father, wai your mother, we don’t want your wai. As they spoke, they kept beating him and kicking him with their combat boots. The high-ranking police officer turned to me and said, ‘Do you see, younger brother? I cannot stop them.’ Sewage water was poured on them and cigarettes put out on their necks.”

“All I could do was watch, observe and remember everything that happened so I could write it all down and convey it to others. While they were being beaten, one police officer came and held on to me, as if to show that he knew I was a journalist and to help protect me from being beaten. But another one came around from behind and used his knee to knock my calves to make me sit down.”

A crowd control police fires a rubber bullet launcher during the raid. (File photo, credit: Maew Som)

“Such actions were inappropriate for the civil servants of the land. They are inappropriate for the police, and inappropriate for gentlemen.”  

He said that all of this occurred within the space of approximately 30 minutes. Then a high-ranking police officer, whom he thought was the head of the unit, walked up to inform those arrested of the charges they faced, and ordered them to get back in to the paddy wagon to be taken to Phaholyothin police station. 

In the end, all those arrested were taken to Phaholyothin police station and accused of violating curfew under the emergency decree. They were all fined and released. How quickly or slowly they were released depended on how long it took to make the file on each. Some were let go the next morning and others had to spend another night in a cell.

“It seems like the state is trying to ask for cooperation, for every unit and the people to be peaceful and orderly with the intention of creating happiness. But they do the opposite. And here, Din Daeng, is my home. So I feel even more strongly that I must be more dedicated and more tenacious in not letting anyone come and bully my brothers and sisters.”

“Really, those who come out to fight aren’t asking for very much. All they want is a place to live and food to eat. They want their quality of life to improve. But the state opts not to listen and instead offers violence. Over and over again.”

“If the state’s view is that absolute violence is what will solve the problem, Din Daeng will be no different than the three southern border provinces in the future. Violence does not help anything. Listening and understanding, on the other hand, are what can help. Rather than sending in armed police to lock us up and sending in steel-tipped boots to kick people, I think it would be better to send in microphones for singing songs, badminton rackets, soccer balls, and good roads and a good economy. This would be better than heaping violence upon us.”

Ohm: At that moment, I hurt inside and could not speak

Admin Ninja’s account was confirmed by Ohm, a middle-aged man who was the first to be arrested on the night of 6 October. He was arrested on Soi Ton Pho, next to Din Daeng Flat 1. Even though he was born and raised in Din Daeng, he was a new member of the youth struggle. He joined for the first time on the night of 3 December, only a few days before the night in which all the cameras were covered.

Ohm lived with his parents in a townhouse near the Din Daeng flats. But after the third wave of COVID, he was the only one left. His mother and father are among those who lost their lives from contracting COVID-19 during the government of Prayuth Chan-o-cha.

When he looked around inside his home, there was no one. When he looked outside, he saw people facing the same kinds of problems who were making demands by creating turmoil and then facing disproportionate force from the state. Some were people he knew. Some were still kids. The combination of his feelings and seeing people struggle caused him, a person who had surrendered to his fate and losses, to go outside to set off firecrackers and struggle together with the group of Din Daeng teenagers.

Protesters hide themselves while one shot out a flare. (File photo, credit: Maew Som)

On the evening of 6 October, Ohm had just gotten home from work. As he sat and ate dinner in Soi Ton Pho, a kid ran by yelling that riot police were attacking from Soi Mitrmaitri. So he quickly got firecrackers to shoot in that direction. But within only a moment, a rapid deployment force arrived from the direction of Victory Monument to raid and attack. Upon turning to look and assess the situation, he decided he did not have time to flee.

He decided to stop and let the police come and arrest him. Even so, he was shot with a rubber bullet at close range in his left elbow and hit in the head with the butt of a shotgun as he was pushed down to the ground.

In that moment, Ohm felt blood spurt out of his head. He tried to crouch and use his hands to protect his head from being hit again. The police then stepped on him to flatten him against the ground before taking him to the paddy wagon. They used their steel-tipped combat boot-clad feet to kick the right knee cap until his kneecap was dislocated. When he told the police that his kneecap was dislocated and could not walk, they propped him up by both arms and dragged him.

As he sat in pain from his wounds, others arrested were brought one-by-one to the paddy wagon. There was a total of eight, including Admin Ninja. The police told them that they were being taken to the police station. But before they arrived at the police station, out of nowhere, the vehicle parked in a spot on a shortcut between Phaholyothin Road and Vibhavadi Rangsit Road. What happened next was as Admin Ninja had said.

Ohm was the third person to be dragged by his head from the paddy wagon. Being the third person means you know what fate awaits you upon being brought down from the vehicle. Reflecting on what happened, Ohm said it felt like being hazed. The most he could do was steel himself to withstand the blows from hands, feet, knees and clubs. What he did not know how to take was the burning end of the cigarette that was poked into different parts of his body and the sewage that was poured over his head.

“They showed me a picture of the policeman who was shot. And said that I had done this to his friend, and that I must think I am really cool, really hot stuff. I kept saying I didn’t know because I was the first to be arrested, and so how could I know? But it did not help, at all. I couldn’t speak anymore. I hurt all over my body, and I hurt in my heart.”

“After the first round, I thought it was over. I thought they would send us to the police station, and those who were badly hurt would maybe be taken to the hospital. I had no idea there would be this second round.”

All eight were then taken to the Phaholyothin police station. A total of twenty-nine were arrested that night and the next morning. The stance of the policemen, the very same group who had attacked them, changed once they arrived at the station. After having swarmed around and beaten them, they now helped them into the police station and asked after their injuries with concern.

Ohm did not really know why people could change so dramatically so quickly. Or maybe it is the light and the eyes of other people that can cause us to swing from one pole to another.

Ohm was one of those who were seriously injured and it took a long time before the police agreed to send him to the Police Hospital. He owed 5000 baht for his treatment. When the vehicle stopped for the search and beating, his wallet had been taken and the 3000 baht in it disappeared. He refused to pay for his treatment. In the end, a policeman from Phaholyothin police station pulled out his wallet and paid. But the other injured people, who did not protest, had to pay their own hospital bills.

Ohm was given painkillers and antibiotics, and an appointment slip to come back to take out his stitches and have further x-rays. But he decided not to go back because he didn’t have the money to pay the hospital bill. He and a younger friend removed their own stitches. Ohm said he could see and feel that his kneecap that had been kicked and dislocated was still a little bit off. The spot on his head that was whacked with the butt of a gun until it was drenched in blood no longer felt strange.

Surveilling Every Step: Intimidation After Arrest

“If you ask about the impact it has had on me … it’s like I no longer have a place to be. It’s like I have become completely homeless. I once had a home and now I have become a stray. I go sleep at that house and then this house. It caused me to lose my job, too. The police contacted the company where I worked, the company told me, and then I had to quit.”

Din Daeng intersection protest. (File Photo by Nontawat Numbenchapol

Even though Ohm’s arrest and prosecution ended with a fine for violating curfew, he and many of his friends believe that they are being closely surveilled by the police. He said that it is not difficult to detect the surveillance because the form is so similar. For example, when he and his friends return to the Din Daeng flats, or even to the house where he had lived with his parents, a vehicle without license plates soon appears, parks and watches for a long time. Whenever he leaves the area, a vehicle follows him; he started choosing longer routes so he could lose the tail. The worst for him was that the police went to the company where he worked. The management summoned him and he had to agree to resign. Further, once he had recovered from his injuries, he started his life over by becoming a rider. But every time he rides his motorcycle to make a delivery, someone follows him the entire way. 

This has been experienced and corroborated by many people who were arrested that night. The police are trying to find the person who shot the riot policeman, but Ohm also thinks that the police are trying to use every method to make them afraid and feel that they are being closely watched all the time. They are even pressuring the owners of rooms in Din Daeng flats to not rent to teenagers or let them stay there. If they do, the police threaten that they will be accused of supporting demonstrations that create chaos.

Narongrat Khamsuwan: Blocking Access to Lawyers

It would be a misunderstanding to think that the arrests ended early in the evening of 6 October. The arrests and clashes between the police and groups of teenagers stretched all night and into the morning of the next day.

Narongrat Khamsuwan, a young lawyer from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, explained that around 8 am on the morning of 7 October, he was informed that there were around forty people who had been arrested during the night of 6 October and the early morning of 7 October who were being held at Din Daeng police station. 

File Photo

He went to Din Daeng police station and asked to meet with those arrested. But the police refused and would not provide him with any information. He decided to walk into the inquiry room. But the police pushed him out and used profanity against him: “This is a matter of law. What’s a lawyer getting involved for?” They closed and locked the door, and then he heard a voice from inside the room that said, “dickhead lawyer.”

“When I went into the room, I saw about ten people who had been arrested. There were another fifteen uniformed and plainclothes police. When I went in, all eyes turned to me. I was shocked, and once I regained my composure, asked, ‘What stage of the process is this? Have you informed them of their accusations yet, since they have been arrested since early morning?’ They were motionless. So I asked, ‘Were they caught while committing crimes or not?’ Because if not, the police do not have the right to hold them in custody. Once I asked a bunch of questions, they asked who I was. I said I was a lawyer.

Then they covered the faces of those who were being held. I yelled out to them that, ‘You were not caught while committing crimes. You have not been informed of the accusations against you. You are being subjected to an illegal process. According to your rights, you can get up and walk out.’ But no one dared to get up and walk out. A plainclothes policeman came up and pushed me out by the chest. As he pushed me out, he said, ‘What’s a lawyer getting involved for? Dickhead lawyer.’”

Narongrat explained that the police were trying to coerce information about who shot and seriously injured the riot policeman in the head. But the entire process was far in excess of what is permitted under the law. The rude comment from the police, “What’s a lawyer getting involved for?” multiplied his questions about the judicial process. If you are lawyer and you are not permitted to provide legal assistance to those who have been arrested, then what kind of process was taking place in the police station?

“Okay, so I get that police inquiry officials often do not carry out their duties strictly according to the letter of the law. But they should ultimately respect the law. They themselves are police, which is a profession that was designed to protect and preserve the law. They are the enforcers of law and they should not do anything outside the law. Once I challenged them on law, they used profanity instead of being polite.”

After that, he left Din Daeng police station and only observers remained. He was then contacted late in the evening of 7 October to return to serve as the lawyer for the protestors. By then, the police had already recorded the arrests and many had already confessed.

This article is translated from an original piece published in Voice TV Online, “การเมือง ‘ดินแดง’ เงียบงัน: รุมกระทืบ-ด่าทนาย-สลายเยาวชน

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