Thai Police Step Up Arrests of Pro-Democracy Activists, Including of Children

Nontarat Phaicharoen and Nattaphon Phanphongsanon
Thai Police Step Up Arrests of Pro-Democracy Activists, Including of Children A protester launches a projectile towards police during a demonstration calling for Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha’s resignation over his government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, in Bangkok, Sept. 12, 2021.

Dozens of children and teens have been arrested in recent weeks in Bangkok, as police round up mounting numbers of protesters amid near-daily, violent street battles with small groups of anti-government activists, a rights group said.

As protesters have stepped up violence, police have begun to crack down harder – they arrested a 12-year-old bystander this week – but young activists at a demonstration in Bangkok on Wednesday vowed they would not give up until Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha resigned.

“We are here to overthrow Prayuth. He said he does everything for the people, but he only does things for himself,” a teenage protester, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisal, told BenarNews.

He had joined about 100 demonstrators in the capital’s Din Daeng area, where there have been almost daily protests since Aug. 7.

“And we hold our grudge against the police because they stomped on our friend on September 7,” the protester said, without elaborating on the incident referred to.

As the teenager was talking to BenarNews, activists set off loud firecrackers and set car tires ablaze on the street, as protesters began marching from the Din Daeng junction towards Prayuth’s house, surrounded by hundreds of riot police.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), a Bangkok NGO, said riot police use disproportionate force, which provokes the protesters.

“In Bangkok, riot control police frequently follow a suppression and dispersion approach, with a tendency to overuse force and weapons, which results in frequent confrontations between protesters and authorities,” the NGO said on its website on Wednesday.

“The situation has led to a sharp increase in cases of violation of the Emergency Decree in August. That is, 353 new people have been accused of it, making the number of people charged with violating the Emergency Decree due to political participation totaling at least 902 individuals in 331 cases.”

TLHR was referring to the emergency decree signed by the prime minister in March 2020, during the early days of the pandemic in Thailand. The decree allow authorities to impose curfews, bar public gatherings, and censor news deemed to be fake or seen as inducing general fear and panic.

Arrests have risen too, TLHR said.

“[S]ince Aug. 7, at least 225 people, including at least 15 under 15 years of age, and 62 aged 15 to18 were arrested,” the NGO said, adding that these were detention numbers only from Ding Daeng and surrounding areas.

According to police, 767 people face charges relating to protests since July, with 522 arrested so far, Reuters news reported Wednesday.

On the day after any arrest, the court allows some people to be let go on bail, depending on the nature of their alleged offense, on the condition they don’t join assemblies in the future.


Pro-democracy activists Phromsorn Fah” Weerathamjaree (left), Panupong Mike” Jadnok (center) and Chartchai Kaedum, raise the three-fingered salute after being freed on bail, outside the Thanya Buri prison outside of Bangkok, Sept. 15, 2021.  [BenarNews]


During largely peaceful protests that began in July 2020, protesters have called for Prayuth to step down, the constitution to be rewritten, and the monarchy to be reformed.

Many of the activists who spearhead the demonstrations have been arrested and charged with Lese-Majeste, a strict royal defamation law.

A court on Wednesday granted bail to four leaders of the protest movement, after more than a month of pre-trial detention and repeated rejections of bail requests.

Panupong “Mike” Jadnok, Phromsorn “Fah” Weerathamjaree, Chartchai Kaedum and Nutchanon Pairoj were arrested after a protest Aug. 2 and their bail requests were rejected seven times.

Another protest leader, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, was also granted bail on Wednesday but was remanded in custody over charges related to protests last year.

“I wont call for justice from unjust persons,” Panupong said after being freed.

“Having freedom or being jailed is part of the mission for a change to the Republic of Thailand. Now it is time for a change.”

TLHR said at least 124 people have been accused of royal defamation since November 2020.


Fireworks thrown by anti-government demonstrators explode in front of a group of riot police officers during a protest, in Bangkok, Sept. 13, 2021. [Reuters]

15-year-old boy 'will be paralyzed for life'

Starting late July this year, frustration over Prayuth’s alleged failure to handle the COVID-19 pandemic has ignited increasingly violent demonstrations. Agitators set off often-dangerous firecrackers, fire slingshots, and throw glass bottles and rocks at police.

Members of the riot police, meanwhile, have been quelling demonstrations using means such as rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons.

The increase in violence has led to casualties on both sides as well as on people who belong to neither side.

Dek Wangnoi, a delivery worker, said he fell unconscious after being hit by a riot police car last Friday.

“I woke up in a hospital on Saturday, and the doctor said I had a big cut with 27 stitches and that they brought me back to life,” Dek told BenarNews, adding he had to pay 7,000 baht (U.S. $212) for his treatment.

Sunti Teapia, a photojournalist for the local Manager Daily newspaper, said he was injured after being hit by a firecracker set off by a young boy at Din Daeng on Sept. 7.

“I hid behind a big lamp post, but even then that firecracker slammed the post and spilled over on my neck. My skin was burned,” Sunti told BenarNews.

Meanwhile, a 15-year-old boy who was shot and injured in the neck on Aug. 16 is still in the intensive care unit and “will be paralyzed for life,” a protesters group called Thalu Gaz said on its Facebook page on Tuesday.

Police said one of their men, 28-year-old Thanawut Jirakachen, was seriously injured when a firecracker thrown by a protester hit his face on Sept. 11. Local media said the policeman suffered bleeding in his brain and a crack on the bone around his eye-socket.

“The crowd control policeman was injured by a giant firecracker thrown from the Thalu Gaz protester which hit the right side of his face,” Major Piya Tawichai, the deputy chief of the Bangkok Metropolitan Police Bureau, told reporters on Monday.

Piya also warned protesters of even more arrests and said numerous criminal charges would be slapped against “those who stir up chaos in the country,” local media reported.

“If youths commit the offence, their parents will also be charged under the Child Protection Act,” he said Monday.

That night, police arrested the 12-year-old boy who was riding a bicycle to watch the protest at Din Daeng, rights group TLHR said. The child was arrested for violating a pandemic curfew that prohibits people from being outdoors between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m.

TLHR said the boy is “the youngest detainee known in any political arrest” in the past year.

The NGO also alleged that police are targeting peaceful protesters too, especially those who participate in car mob rallies around the country to avoid pandemic restrictions.

The NGO says it knows of charges against 186 people from 29 provinces for car mob rallies. In many cases, TLHR said, the accused had not left their vehicle.


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