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The commander of the Bangkok police force on Wednesday rejected allegations that its officers endangered anti-government demonstrators by aiming baton rounds at their upper bodies during a recent confrontation.

Protesters face off with a police crowd control unit during the 11 June protest. (Source: Ginger cat)

Metropolitan Police Bureau commander Pol Lt Gen Samran Nualma said in a statement that the use of rubber-tipped bullets complied with all appropriate safety guidelines, a day after he told a group of media representatives that citizen journalists and independent media are free to operate from protest sites, provided they do not encourage violence or break the laws.

“The shoulder firing position is a basic pose and complies with standards in using firearms, because it allows the officers to take [accurate] aims at the targets, and it is less dangerous than firing without aiming at all,” the statement quoted Police Lt. Gen. Samran as saying. “Firing the weapon from other positions, without aiming, may cause injuries to vital organs.”

Samran was responding to images and videos that appear to show riot police aiming their rifles directly at protesters near Din Daeng Intersection on the night of 11 June. 

Police critics say such action may cause serious injuries to those struck by the projectiles. They also point to police guidelines on the use of non-lethal weapons, which state that the rubber bullets should only be aimed at non-vital organs and lower parts of the bodies. 

Samran said the images don’t tell the whole story since an elevated firing position alone does not indicate where an officer is aiming. 

“Furthermore, the environment is also important. Were the demonstrators above or below where the officers were standing?” Samran said in the statement. “Focusing on the firing position and assuming that the officers were aiming high simply lacks sufficient evidence for a conclusion.”

Police were seen firing multiple rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets at the protesters on 11 June after they tried to march from Victory Monument to PM Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha’s official residence on Vibhavadi Road, sparking the first violent confrontation between police and anti-government demonstrators in months. 

The organisers said they were marching to demand the ousting of PM Prayut, who has been in power since the 2014 coup. 

Some of the demonstrators responded by throwing fireworks at the officers. Two government vehicles were also torched. There were no official figures on injuries. 

Videos taken by bystanders that night also show a group of plainclothes police detaining a citizen journalist who was reportedly filming the protest on Facebook Live.

Comments on social media identify the person as a staff member of a popular Facebook page called “Katoey Mae Look Orn,” which routinely broadcasts live commentary from protest areas. It is unclear why the person was detained and whether he was charged with any offence. 

Attempts to reach “Katoey Mae Look Orn” were unsuccessful on Wednesday, but a person familiar with the group said the citizen journalist was released without charges after being searched by plainclothes police officers . 

The incident sparked concerns that citizen journalists who report on social media would face further repercussions or arrests from police at protest sites. Police officials have in the past attempted to paint citizen journalists and independent reporters as “unsanctioned media” that need to be controlled or regulated. 

In a Monday meeting with the representatives of six media associations, Samran stated that he respected the rights of professional and citizen journalists to report or broadcast news of political demonstrations, provided they obey the law. 

A summary of the meeting published by the Thai Journalists Association, one of the organisations present at the discussion, quoted Samran as saying that he “maintained that citizen journalists and members of the public can definitely publish or broadcast the news and images from the protests.”

“But at the same time,” Samran was quoted as saying. “I’d like to ask for cooperation from the citizen journalists and members of the public to refrain from using words that lead to sedition or incitement of violence, or engaging in any unlawful acts.” 

A police summary of the meeting did not include Samran’s remarks, noting instead that both parties discussed ways to ensure that the police will not “obstruct or harass the operations of the media other than in instances when a reporter is encouraging or participating in the protest, or in cases where it is necessary for police officers to defend themselves.”

On 16 June 2022, Prachatai replaced the original content with a grammatically edited version.

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