Thai Teen Shot During Protests 2 Months Ago Dies; Police Disrupt Vigil

Nontarat Phaicharoen and Nattaphon Phanphongsanon
2021.10.29
Bangkok
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Thai Teen Shot During Protests 2 Months Ago Dies; Police Disrupt Vigil A mourner pays respects at the spot where 15-year-old Warit Somnoi was shot during an anti-government rally two months ago, and who died on Thursday, at Din Daeng intersection in Bangkok, Oct. 29, 2021.
[Nattaphon Phanphongsanon/BenarNews]

A Thai teen who was in a coma after being shot in the neck during an anti-government rally more than two months ago has died, police said on Friday, reporting the first fatality in political protests that began in July 2020.

Warit Somnoi, 15, died on Thursday, said Jirasan Kaewsaengake, deputy commissioner general of Metropolitan Police, who added that he hoped the teen would be the last victim of violence at a political gathering.

“Warit’s case has been an example that has brought us tremendous grief,” Jirasan said. “I’d like to ask everyone in all groups to act within the law and not cause violence. There should be no unrest that could bring loss.”

Also on Friday, police clashed with anti-government protesters while trying to disperse more than 100 who had gathered in Bangkok’s Din Daeng intersection to mourn Warit. Protesters spread flowers and lit candles while others poured red paint over the spot where the teen was shot.

Warit was shot on the evening of Aug. 16, 2021 – during clashes between police and anti-government protesters – on Mitmaitree Road across from the Din Daeng Police Station. The bullet had lodged at Warit’s brain stem and fractured his first and second cervical vertebra, authorities at Rajavithi Hospital, where he had been taken, said at the time.

Warit’s mother Nipapon Somnoi told reporters the family missed her son’s smile.

“My heart is broken as a mother. The case should be cleared soon and it should never be forgotten,” she said during the funeral prayers Thursday evening.

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A mourner lights candles in front of a police station to protest the death of 15-year-old Warit Somnoi, who had been in a coma after being shot two months ago during an anti-government rally, in Bangkok, Oct. 29, 2021. [Nattaphon Phanphongsanon/BenarNews]

‘An abuse of power problem’

Meanwhile, Warit’s father, Suchiti Chainok said he had many questions during the two months and 12 days that his son had been hospitalized.

“We are not sure the man police arrested was the real shooter,” Suchiti told the media, referring to a 28-year-old man arrested Sept. 30.

“A civilian [like the man police arrested] cannot have been on the police station premises like that,” Suchiti said.

Warit’s father was referring to what a Thai parliamentary fact-finding panel, set up to look into the shooting, said after scrutinizing CCTV footage from 54 city cameras.

The panel said on Sept. 17 that Warit’s alleged shooter and 10 other men in civilian clothes were seen walking around the Din Daeng junction and on the premises of the Din Daeng police station around the time of the shooting on Aug. 16.

Thirteen days later, on Sept. 30, police said they arrested Chutipong Thitkratok for Warit’s shooting. Chutipong was taken into custody in Kanchanaburi, the province he had fled to from Bangkok after the shooting, police said at the time.

Chutipong, who was charged with attempted murder and illegal possession of a weapon, denied being the shooter. Later, a court granted bail.

On Friday, Deputy Commissioner Jirasan said “there are no other suspects” based on the police investigation.

“There was only one suspect arrested for Warit’s death. The investigator will put out a warrant with more charges against the suspect. The previous charge was attempted murder, but the new charge is intentional murder,” he said.

Meanwhile, a member of the pro-democracy Free Youth Group, who along with others gathered at Din Daeng to mourn for Warit, said it was imperative that the teen’s case be investigated fairly.

“The shots were fired in your area, near your police station, you must be responsible,” Ying, the Free Youth Group member who goes by a single name, told BenarNews while addressing the police.

During largely peaceful protests that began in July 2020, demonstrators have called for Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha to step down, the constitution to be rewritten, and the monarchy to be reformed.

A political science academic at Chiang Mai University criticized the police, saying they appeared to not be taking the case seriously or acting urgently.

“It is tremendously sad that a boy has to die and the government has not come forward to show responsibility – what is happening goes beyond human rights violations,” Naing Hlin told BenarNews.

“The world has seen that Thailand does not have a safe space for the youth to participate in politics. The state has an abuse of power problem.”

Kunnawut Boonreak in Chiang Mai, Thailand, contributed to this report.

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