Thai police to charge 30 anti-establishment demonstrators over protests outside parliament, police headquarters

Thai police are set to charge around 30 anti-establishment protestors for demonstrating outside the country’s parliament house and police headquarters.

Bangkok Post reported deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Bureau Pol Maj Gen Piya Tawichai as saying on Friday (20 November) that 14 people were identified while committing offences near parliament in Dusit district on Tuesday.

17 others were identified during the protest outside the Royal Thai Police Headquarters in Pathumwan district the following day, he added.

Piya said that police have yet to decide whether it will charge the protestors for lèse majesté.

Under Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code, it is an offence to defame, insult, or threaten the king, the queen, the heir-apparent or the regent. It carries a punishment of between three to 15 years imprisonment.

The charges may include causing damage to government property, demonstrating without prior permission, assembling to create disorder, physical assault, attempted murder and violation of cleanliness and land traffic laws.

This comes a day after Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Thursday ordered a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters by security agencies.

Human rights organisations have condemned the police’s use of chemical-laced and dye-laced water cannons against unarmed protesters and tear gas to disperse the rallies earlier this week.

Over 50 people were injured. 32 of them suffered the effects of the tear gas while six were reported to have had gunshot wounds.

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) said on Wednesday that the use of violence by Thai police during the demonstration “fails to meet the international human rights standards Thailand has committed itself to”.

“This is the third time that the police have used water cannons and have escalated to throwing tear gas canisters for the first time towards the protesters.

“These methods are disproportionate and unnecessary and cannot be justified under international human rights standards and crowd dispersal standards,” the rights group said.

One of the seven proposals for discussion was a constitutional amendment bill, submitted by iLaw, a Thai civil society group advocating for freedom of expression, pushing for reforms to end the military legacy in the Constitution.

The proposal by iLaw for this bill received more than 100,000 signatures.

The iLaw’s proposed bill is perceived by the pro-democracy movement as a crucial step of the call for the constitutional changes.

The demand for constitutional reforms stems from issues in the current 2016 constitution, drafted by the then-military regime, said FORUM-ASIA.

“While Thailand’s military regime has officially ended, the country still uses this Constitution which reinforces the disproportionate powers of the military and its allies.

“For the pro-democracy movement, the Constitution has allowed the military to retain their hold on the country and the amendment will be a crucial step towards shifting greater power towards the people and the realisation of their democratic rights,” the group said.

FORUM-ASIA called on the Thai government to comply with its international obligations under the ICCPR to respect and facilitate the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.

“Police officers who engaged in any form of brutality or violence in yesterday’s protests, should be held accountable,” it added.

Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, on Thursday said that the Thai authorities “should promptly and impartially investigate the violence, including the alleged use of firearms by pro-government demonstrators, and prosecute all those responsible for abuses regardless of their political affiliation or rank”.

Many months before the police brutality described above reared its head against anti-establishment protestors in Thailand, demonstrators and even journalists covering pro-democracy rallies in Hong Kong were reportedly subject to similar widespread, continuous use of water cannons and tear gas by the city’s police.

Instances of alleged police violence appear to not be limited to seemingly disproportionate methods of dispersing crowds of protestors — in the United States, the death of George Floyd sparked outrage across the country and brought the spotlight on multiple other instances of police brutality against Black people.

The protests came after a video of Derek Chauvin, then a police officer, pressing his knee against Floyd’s neck during arrest for almost nine minutes while Floyd said he could not breathe circulated across the internet.

Chauvin, now no longer a police officer, has been charged with second-degree unintentional murder and manslaughter.

He is slated to go on trial in Minnesota state court in March alongside three former police officers who were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter.

Closer to home, Malaysia-based youth-led collective MISI: Solidariti last week highlighted media reports on cases of detainees and prisoners being subject to violence and torture by local police.

In many of the cases, the police officers who were charged were either acquitted even without an appeal or found not guilty in the first place.

“Police reform is the only way to aid in curbing police misconduct, and the passing of the IPCMC (Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission) Bill is a great step in this direction,” said MISI: Solidariti.

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