Protester shot with a rubber bullet likely to go blind

Among the 33 people injured during the clashes between crowd control police and protesters marching to the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre on Friday (18 November), one was shot in the eye with a rubber bullet and is now very likely to go blind. 

Payu Boonsophon sitting in an ambulance receiving first aid after he was shot in the eye with a rubber bullet. The activist group Dao Din confirmed today that his right eye will never see again.

Friday’s protest march was called by a network of activist groups and civil society organizations who have been gathering at Lan Khon Muang square in front of the Bangkok City Hall for the past three days to protest what they see as the Thai government’s attempt to boost its legitimacy on the international stage and the lack of participation from civil society in determining the policies being proposed at APEC meetings. They also spoke out against the Bio-Circular-Green Economy Model (BCG), raising concerns that the model would worsen community right issues facing marginalized and vulnerable groups, would take away their resources and land, and is an attempt at greenwashing the country’s major corporations with its carbon credit model.

During the march, protesters were met with police blockades. Twice, crowd control police in full riot gear violently dispersed protesters using shields, batons, and rubber bullets, injuring many protesters, with several reporting that they were physically assaulted by the police, who kicked and punched them.

A protester stripped down to his underwear and helmet while facing off with crowd control police. (Photo by Ginger Cat)

During the second attempt by crowd control police to force the protesters on Dinso Road to disperse, Payu Boonshopon, an activist from the Dao Din group, was shot in the right eye with a rubber bullet at around 12.40 . He was later taken to the Police Hospital for treatment.

The Dao Din group posted on their Facebook page at around 20.30 on Friday night (18 November) that Payu was undergoing surgery, and that his doctors say that he is likely to lose the sight in his right eye as the eyeball was ruptured by the shot and both the lens and retina have been damaged. His eyelid is also damaged, and his nasal bone was shattered, requiring reconstructive surgery.

The group said that the surgery was completed at around 20.45, and that Payu was conscious. However, they were told by his doctors that the damage to his eye was severe, and that they will need to monitor him for infection. They said on Saturday morning (19 November) that Payu is conscious and stable, and that he told the other activists he was shot at close range while running to the frontline to lead other protesters and to tell the speaker truck driver not to retreat.

The group said that after being examined by his doctor, it was found that Payu could not see when the doctor shone a flashlight at his right eye, and that the doctor said there is a very small chance that he will be able to see again.

The Dao Din group said today (21 November) that, after being examined by his doctor, it was confirmed that Payu will never see again with his right eye, as it does not respond to light. He will also need another surgery to repair his tear duct.  

To show support for Payu and raise awareness about police violence against the protesters, the group invited the public to take a photo with their right eye covered and post it to social media along with information about what happened on the day.

An injured protester being taken away in an ambulance. 

The protest database and observation site Mob Data Thailand reported that at least 33 people were injured during the protest and the two crackdowns, and that 21 of the arrested protesters were injured.

17-year-old “Nice,” an activist from Ratsadon Khong-Chi-Mun, an group based in Khon Kaen, was among the injured. She said that she was among the guards on the frontline during the police’s first attempt to disperse protesters. Nice told Prachatai that at the time, the police were pulling whoever they could reach to behind the police line. She was also pulled away from the other protesters, and said crowd control police kicked her in the head.

Nice's injuries sustained while being assaulted by crowd control police

While surrounded by 7 – 8 crowd control officers, she said she heard one of the officers shouted at the others not to arrest her because she is a woman, likely because her shirt was torn open and the officers saw her chest. They then used their feet to kick her out of their circle.

Nice said that some other protesters brought her out of the clash site at Dinso Road and to the medical team at Lan Khon Muang.

Pe said a rick was thrown at his chest, resulting in some bruising

Pe, another protest guard, also said that he was injured after crowd control officers threw rocks at the protesters. He said that during the clash, the protest guards and the police were shouting at each other, and that he threw a bag containing urine at the police line. According to Pe, a rock was then thrown at his chest and another narrowly missed one of his friends.

Kim, 22, an activist from Khon Kaen University, told iLaw that he was near a police truck being pushed out of the way by protesters when crowd control police carrying shields ran at him. He was hit in the leg with a shield, and was then hit with a baton. A very large man then tripped him, after which he was beaten by a large group of officers who hit them with shields and kicked him all over his body. An officer also pointed a gun at his head.

While Kim was being carried to a police detention truck, he said that several officers ran up to hit him with their batons. Others also slapped his head, and one officer kicked him after they put him in the detention truck.

Kim said that other protesters who were in the same truck were also possibly assaulted, noting that commanding officers did not try to stop their subordinates from shouting profanities at the activists or hurting them. He said that Tik, an activist from the Chiang Mai-based Neo Lanna group, was taken to the truck after him. When Tik refused to get in the truck, police officers punched him. He was also later tied up with cable ties.

Kim said he saw when he arrived at Thung Song Hong Police Station that many of the arrested protesters had been assaulted. He said that Tik’s nose was possibly broken, and another activist from Nakhon Ratchasima had a cut on the head. He noted that protesters were unarmed and did not have much safety equipment, but the police went against international principles when arresting them and intentionally assaulted them.

A protester showing an injury on his back from being shot with a rubber bullet

iLaw noted that the police use of rubber bullet contravened international protocols on using rubber bullets, as several protesters reported being shot in the head and because the weapon was used against nonviolent protesters.

The United Nations Human Rights Guidance on Less-Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement states that the kinetic impact projectiles, such as rubber or plastic bullets, should be aimed at the lower abdomen or the legs and only against violent individuals to “address an imminent threat of injury to either a law enforcement official or a member of the public.”

The Guidelines note that aiming at the head or face can lead to severe injuries, including brain injury and eye damage, or death, while targeting the torso may damage vital organs and penetrating injuries especially when fired at close range. It also notes that rubber bullets should not be fired in automatic mode, and that using several rounds at the same time does not comply “with the principles of necessity and proportionality.” Metal bullets should also not be used.

iLaw also noted that, under the Public Assembly Act, law enforcement officers are required to obtain a court order for the protest to cease in cases where they ask protesters to disperse voluntarily and they refuse to do so. The Public Assembly Act also says that while waiting for a court order, law enforcement may follow any necessary protocol for public protests, but must avoid using force, and use necessary crowd control tools only when the use of force is unavoidable. Dispersing a protest when protesters and protest leaders have yet to break the requirements listed under Sections 15 and 16 the Public Assembly Act and without requesting a court order renders any crackdown unlawful.


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