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The crackdown on the 18 November 2022 protest march against the government under Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha and its pro-corporation economic policies was a violation of press freedom and the right to peaceful assembly, as several protesters and members of the press were injured, says the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

A protester spreads his arms during clashes between anti-government demonstrators and riot police in Bangkok on 18 November 2022. 

During the APEC Economic Leaders’ meeting in November 2022, protesters gathered at Lan Khon Muang square in front of the Bangkok City Hall to protest what they see as the attempt by the government of Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha to boost its legitimacy on the international stage and the lack of participation from civil society in determining 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 rights issues facing marginalized and vulnerable groups, would take away their resources and land, and was an attempt at greenwashing the country’s major corporations with its carbon credit model.

On 18 November 2022, protesters attempted to march from Lan Khon Muang to the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre, where the APEC meetings were being held, but were blocked on Dinso Road by a series of police barriers and units of crowd control police in full riot gears. 25 people were arrested and 33 were injured as the police violently dispersed the protesters, including activist Payu Boonsophon, who lost sight in one eye after he was shot with a rubber bullet.

Several reporters were also injured by the police’s use of violence against protesters. Police officers in full riot gear were seen in a video clip charging at a group of reporters and photographers gathered on the footpath, pushing them with shields and hitting them with batons. The Matter reporter Sutthipath Kanittakul was assaulted while livestreaming the protest, while Waranyu Khongsathittum, a citizen journalist livestreaming for The Isaan Record, was assaulted and arrested. Photographer Chalinee Thirasupa also had a glass bottle thrown at her face while photographing crowd control police blocking the route to the Democracy Monument, which she said came from the direction of the police.

National Human Rights Commissioner Wasan Paileeklee said in a press conference last Friday (2 June) that the NHRC agreed to investigate the crackdown, saying that it had received complaints from several press organizations that the police’s use of violence injured at least 4 members of the press, one complaint noting that the protest was peaceful but was met with violence.

The NHRC ruled that, because the majority of the protesters were not violent and protest leaders were reprimanding protesters who threw objects at the police, the protest is considered to have been a peaceful assembly. It also found that the crowd control police used batons and rubber bullets against the protesters without warning and fired indiscriminately, injuring protesters and bystanders, and that the police threw glass bottles and pieces of wood at protesters. Their actions are therefore not in line with the law and international principles and were a violation of the people’s rights.

The NHRC also ruled that, by pushing protesters or punching and kicking them, the police were using excessive force to arrest protesters, most of whom were not resisting, while those who resisted were unarmed.

The police also violated press freedom by assaulting and injuring members of the press during their operation, as well as trying to prevent coverage of the protest. The NHRC said that by doing so, they went against the state’s duty to provide safety for members of the press.

The NHRC recommends that the police headquarters launch an investigation to find out the facts from the officers involved in the crackdown and their superiors and to ensure that police operations are in line with Thai laws and international principles. The police must order its crowd control unit not to interfere with peaceful protests, avoid using force, and must be careful of the effects on bystanders, including members of the press, reporters, medical personnel, and uninvolved members of the public. They must also publicize information about how people affected by the police use of force in the 18 November 2022 protest can seek remedy.

The NHRC also recommends that any officer responsible for a public gathering to be in contact with organizers of the gathering or protest leaders so that they can appropriately manage the situation, while protest leaders must ensure that the protesters are peaceful and unarmed.

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