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A group of activists have filed a lawsuit with the Administrative Court against the police over the violent dispersal of a protest on 18 November 2022, demanding a court order prohibiting the use of excessive force to disperse protests, as well as 12 million baht in damages.

Activists burned pictures of the crackdown and read out a statement after filing their lawsuit (Photo from the Human Rights Lawyers Alliance)

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 saw as an 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 threaten the community rights of 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, the 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 gear. 25 people were arrested and 33 were injured as the police violently dispersed the protesters, including activist Payu Boonsophon, who lost the sight in one eye after he was shot with a rubber bullet.

Several reporters were also injured by the police 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 she was photographing crowd control police blocking the route to the Democracy Monument, which she said came from the direction of the police.

The police operation was launched without a court approval, a police officer admitted during a hearing held on 30 November 2022 by the House Committee on Law Enforcement, where activists and their lawyers were summoned along with police representatives to testify about the crackdown. 

Pol Col Pitak Sitthikul said during the hearing that an officer was sent to the Civil Court to apply for permission to disperse the protesters. When pressed by Move Forward Party MP Rangsiman Rome to clarify how the court ruled on the request, another police representative, Pol Col Thanayut Bhumngam, said that they did not receive a ruling as the courthouse was closed due to a special holiday mandated by the government during the APEC summit. Judges also declined to open an emergency session because the matter was not urgent.

Under the current Public Assembly Act, the police are required to obtain permission from the Civil Court before dispersing protests. If the Court rules in their favour, they must notify the protesters and order them to leave. If protesters fail to comply, the police are required to secure permission from the Civil Court to declare the protest area a “controlled zone” which can be cleared by force, if necessary.

Activists and lawyers held a press conference on a lawn next to the Central Administrative Court after filing their lawsuit. (Photo from the Human Rights Lawyers Alliance)

On Wednesday (5 July), Payu and other activists who took part in the protest went to the Central Administrative Court to file a lawsuit against the Royal Thai Police, the Commissioner-General and four other police commanders over the crackdown. They are demanding 12 million baht in damages and for the court to order the police chief and relevant police commanders to ensure that public protests are not blocked and that no excessive force is used against protesters.

The activists also ask the court to order the police to amend their public protest protocol and handbook to include a measure keeping crowd control officers in check to prevent future damages and to require the police to publish reports on police operations during public protests which include a list of officers on duty during such operations.

Somboon Khamhaeng, Chair of the NGO Coordinating Committee on Development and one of the activists filing the lawsuit, said they are suing the police because no one has been held accountable for the violence perpetrated against the protesters, especially Payu, who lost an eye, and instead of receiving compensation, they are being prosecuted.

Somboon said that the government under Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha exercised use of extreme power against the protesters, employing laws that suppress freedom of assembly and violence to disperse the protesters. He noted that the activists were following the law, informing the authorities of the protest, the route of their march, and their schedule, which had been received by the police, who turned around to block the march, leading him to believe that the crackdown was done by government order to suppress their right to freedom of expression.

Activists involved in the protest previously file a complaint with Samranrat Police Station against the crowd control police and any other officers responsible for misconduct, physical assault causing injury, and physical assault causing serious injury such as loss of sight. They also filed a complaint with the House Committee on Political Development, Mass Communications and Public Participation, calling for an investigation into the crackdown.

The online news agency The Matter, whose reporter was beaten by crowd control police while livestreaming the protest, also filed a court challenge against the police. It asked the Civil Court to summon police commanders to testify on the violence against reporters covering the 18 November protest and to rule whether the police failed to obey an injunction issued in August 2021 ordering the police to exercise caution and refrain from committing violence against the media in its crowd control operations.

Following a complaint filed by professional media organizations, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) launched an investigation into the crackdown. It later ruled that the crackdown was a violation of press freedom and the right to peaceful assembly, since protesters were peaceful and crowd control police used batons and rubber bullets against protesters without warning and fired indiscriminately, injuring protesters and bystanders. The NHRC also found that crowd control officers threw objects at protesters, and assaulted and injured members of the press, as well as tried to prevent coverage of the protest.

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