The Thai authorities must respect and abide by the principles of necessity and proportionality in handling protests, and must hold accountable police and plainclothes officers who have responded to protests with violence, said the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and CIVICUS in a joint statement on Tuesday (23 Mar).
Earlier on Saturday (20 Mar), Thai police used water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets against protesters calling for reform of the monarchy outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok.
Video footage also showed the police using batons against protesters. At least 20 civilians and 13 police officers were reportedly injured during the protests. Three journalists on the scene, who had been wearing press armbands, were hit by rubber bullets.
“We denounce how the use of disproportionate and unnecessary force against protesters has become the standard response to the pro-democracy movement. Police have, over recent months, continued to use water cannons and rubber bullets, often towards unarmed and peaceful protesters,” said Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA.
Under the UN Human Rights Guidance on Less-Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement, the use of water cannons is limited to “situations of serious public disorder where there is a significant likelihood of loss of life, serious injury or the widespread destruction of property”.
The Guidelines also state that kinetic impact projectiles, such as rubber bullets, should be used “in direct fire with the aim of striking the lower abdomen or legs of a violent individual”, and only to address “a imminent threat of injury”.
“The conditions needed for the use of these weapons were not met in Saturday’s protest”, said the FORUM-ASIA and CIVICUS.
The protest was called by REDEM (Restart Democracy), a faction of the pro-democracy movement in the country. The pro-democracy movement had been calling for the Prime Minister’s resignation, constitutional amendment, and the reform of the monarchy.
32 people arrested from Saturday’s protests, 7 of whom were minors
Civil society organisation Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) documented 32 people arrested from Saturday’s protests, seven of whom were minors. 16 are currently detained in Border Patrol Police Region 1, a site 40 km away from the city, which was originally designated as a detention place under the emergency decree.
They will be facing charges ranging from violations of the Emergency Decree, the Communicable Disease Act, Criminal Law section 215 and 216, which could lead to at most three years imprisonment or 60,000 Baht fine.
Two minors will face additional charges of lese majeste. The police are expected to issue more warrants.
“The pro-democracy movement and human rights defenders continue to face intimidation and judicial harassment. There remains no legal justification under the Criminal Procedural Code for detaining individuals in previously designated detention areas located far away, unless it is intended to discourage access to lawyers and colleagues,” said the groups.
“The country’s repressive laws, and particularly its lese-majeste provision, is being wielded to reinforce a culture of fear and intimidate protesters,” they added.
Since November 2020, more than 76 people have faced lese majeste cases – which is considered one of the strictest monarchy laws in the world – which carries up to 15 years imprisonment.
Many of those charged are said to be key leaders in the pro-democracy movement, whose bail requests have been rejected several times despite being under pre-trial detention.
“The use of judicial harassment against protesters and pro-democracy leaders has failed to discourage young people from tirelessly pushing for change,” said Josef Benedict, Asia Pacific researcher for CIVICUS.
“The government must respect their right to express themselves, and must commit towards protecting this right. It must immediately drop the charges against protesters and hold accountable police officers who have committed violence,” he added.