An overview of public assemblies in February 2021

Updates on the public assemblies during February 2021
@Thikamporn Tamtiang

# The situation of public assemblies in February 2021

February saw an escalation of tension related public assemblies in terms of prosecutions and crackdown on public assemblies which have become increasingly more violent ostensibly to deter the exercise of freedoms. During the month, the number prosecutions against the demonstrators has soared while the authorities have readily resorted to the use of force to disperse public assemblies four times.

At least 18 demonstrations have been held to show solidarity with the people who were opposed to the military coup in Myanmar, led by both Thai and Myanmar people in Thailand. Two of such gatherings faced violent crackdowns. The remand in custody of prominent activists pending the trial attesting to a brazen injustice of the judicial process has prompted a outpouring of demand to “Release Our Friends” and at least 20 public gatherings to demand for the repeal of Penal Code’s Section 1

@Thikamporn Tamtiang

@Thikamporn Tamtiang

The first major public rally took place on 28 February 2021 and the protesters marched from the Victory Monument to the 1st Infantry Regiment. Led by REDEM, it was called a “leaderless protest” as decisions to call the demonstration were made collectively. It faced heavy-handed response from the authorities and rubber bullets were for the first time this year used to disperse the crowd and take charge of the area.

The first major public rally took place on 28 February 2021 and the protesters marched from the Victory Monument to the 1st Infantry Regiment. Led by REDEM, it was called a “leaderless protest” as decisions to call the demonstration were made collectively. It faced heavy-handed response from the authorities and rubber bullets were for the first time this year used to disperse the crowd and take charge of the area.

Issues concerning public administrations in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic 19 and other social grievances have pushed people to take to the street relentlessly. Some have come out to demand relief program to address the needs of those affected by economic crunch due to the COVID-19 pandemic whereas others have demanded dialogue and solutions to address the right to live in National Park of the ethnic Karen from Bang Kloy village while another group has demanded police reform to address the “Elephant Ticket” scandal.

@FAOZEE

Based on Mob Data Thailand, from 1-28 February 2021, there have been at least 73 public assemblies throughout the country, 44 of which took place in Bangkok, eight in Chiang, four in Khon Kaen each, and two in Chiang Rai, Ubonratchathani, Roi Et, Nakhon Ratchasima, Chaiyaphum and Songklha each, and only one in Yala and Narathiwat each. At least ten prosecutions have resulted from such gatherings. Most of the charges coalesced around a violation of a ban on public assembly invoking the Emergency Decree with up to two years of imprisonment or a fine not exceeding 40,000 baht or both and a violation of the Communicable Disease Act’s Section 34 (6) with a fine not exceeding 20,000 baht.

In addition, other irrelevant laws have been used to criminalize the exercise of freedoms of expression including the Flag Act B.E. 2522 as a result of the demonstration at Si Than Lake by the building of the President of Khon Kaen University on 12 February 2021 and other laws which have been missed including the Act on Maintenance of the Cleanliness and the Controlling Public Advertisement by Sound Amplifier Act as a result of the gathering on 1 February 2021 at the Phu Khiaw Police Station in Chaiyaphum.

# At least ten public assemblies yielding prosecutions

1. The public assembly was led by We Volunteer on 1 February 2021 at the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok (opens new window) to show opposition to the coup in Myanmar where public assemblies have been cracked down. Some demonstrators have got arrested and been charged for violating the Emergency Decree.

2. The public assembly led by Khana Ratsadon Phu Khiaw on 1 February 2021 at Phu Khiaw Police Station in Chaiyaphum (opens new window) to demand an apology from the police since they had visited homes of some children who had joined the protests. It has led to charges being pressed for a violation of the Emergency Decree, a violation of the Announcement of the Chief Officer of Response During the State of Emergency, a violation of the Act on Maintenance of the Cleanliness and the Controlling Public Advertisement by Sound Amplifier Act.

3. The public assembly led by the Karen network on 5 February 2021 at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation in Bangkok (opens new window) to demand solutions to the right to live in the forest of the ethnic Karen of Bang Kloy village. It has led to charges concerning a violation of the Emergency Decree.

@Thikamporn Tamtiang

4. The public assembly led by Ratsadon Group on 9 February 2021 at Skywalk, Pathumwan intersection in Bangkok as an outpouring of anger after the Court has denied bail applications of Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, Anon Nampha, Somyot Pruksakasemsuk and Patiwat Saraiyaem who were accused of violating the Emergency Decree, the Communicable Disease Act and unauthorized use of sound amplifier. and charged for violating the Emergency Decree, the Communicable Disease Act and unauthorized use of sound amplifier.

5. The public assembly led by Ratsadon Group on 10 February 2021 at Pathumwan intersection in Bangkok (opens new window) to demand the repeal of Penal Code’s Section 112 and the release of suspects who were remanded in custody at the Pathumwan police station. Some protesters were arrested on site and charged for violating the Emergency Decree, the Communicable Disease Act and unauthorized use of sound amplifier.

@Thikamporn Tamtiang

6. The public assembly led by Ratsadon Khon Kaen on 12 February 2021 at Si Than Lake by the building of the President of Khon Kaen University to demand the repeal of the Penal Code’s Section 112. Some protesters were charged for violating the Flag Act’s Sections 53 and 54.

7. The public assembly led by Ratsadon on 13 February 2021 at Victory Monument in Bangkok (opens new window) to demand the repeal of Penal Code’s Section 112 and the release of prominent protesters who have been remanded in custody pending the trial**. Some protesters have been arrested** and charged for violating the Emergency Decree, the Communicable Disease Act, illegal assembly of ten persons and upward, refusing to disband an illegal assembly despite being ordered to do so, fighting, obstructing and physically abusing the officers.

@gun_sangtong

8. The public assembly led by Ratsadon Kong- Chi-Mun on 20 February 2021 at Ruang Saen Park (opens new window)and the procession toward the Muang Khon Kaen Police Station to demand the repeal of the Penal Code’s Section 112 and the release of prominent protesters who have been remanded in custody pending the trial. Some protesters were later charged for violating the Emergency Decree.

@Ter

9. The public assembly led by Ratsadon on 23 February 2021 at the Royal Thai Police Headquarters in Bangkok to demand police reform and assert their three demands on the rewrite of the Constitution, the removal of Prayut as Prime Minister and the reform of the monarchy. Some protesters were later charged for violating the Penal Code’s Section 112.

@Thikamporn Tamtiang

10. The public assembly led by REDEM on 28 February 2021 (opens new window) where people were initially gathered at the Victory Monument and then marched toward the residence of Prayut Chan-ocha at the 1st Infantry Regiment to demand the ouster of the Prayut government and to assert their three demands on the rewrite of the Constitution, the removal of Prayut as Prime Minister and the reform of the monarchy.

@Thikamporn Tamtiang

The law enforcement has suppressed the public assembly and made multiple arrests of the protesters at the site who were later charged for violating the Emergency Decree, the Communicable Disease Act, illegal assembly of ten persons and upward, using violence, causing public disturbance, (Penal Code’s Sections 112 and 215), not disbanding despite being ordered to do so (Section 216), fighting and obstructing the officers (Sections 140 and 296).

# Rallying cry: “Repeal of Section 112 and Release Our Friends” and showing solidarity with the opposition to the coup in Myanmar

February 2021 saw an escalation of the prosecution on Section 112. On 9 February 2021, prominent leaders of Ratsadon including Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, Anon Nampha, Somyot Pruksakasemsuk and Patiwat Saraiyaem were indicted on the #19SeptRestoringPeoplePowerRatsadon demonstration. Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak was also indicted on the Mob Fest case. The Court has denied bail applications of the four prominent leaders even though a verdict was yet to be delivered. This has prompted at least 20 public assemblies with the outpouring of anger against the denial of the right to bail pending the trial and the demand for the repeal of the Penal Code’s Section 112.

Nevertheless, at least 18 public assemblies have been organized by the Myanmar people in Thailand who wanted to show their opposition to the coup in Myanmar and it should be noted that the police have used force to disperse two of the gatherings.

There have been public assemblies and public events on other social issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic 19. Some groups who have been staging protests since January and have yet to receive their remedy including the Labour Network for People’s Rights which has been demanding relief program for workers. They have been protesting in front of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. In addition, several other groups in Bangkok and Chiang Mai have come out to rally on ethnic issues and demand solutions to the right to live in the forest of the ethnic Karens in Bang Kloy village and the harassment against the Ban Bangkloy Bon Jai Phaen Din, led by the Karen network and the Save Bang Kloy.

@Thikamporn Tamtiang

# From the crackdowns on public assemblies, three arrests and prosecutions made

Four crackdowns on public assemblies, two of which against the public assemblies to oppose the coup in Myanmar

# Two crackdowns on #SaveMyanmar public assemblies

On 1 February 2021 at 2.00 P.M. in front of the Myanmar Embassy in Thailand, a group of Myanmar people have gathered there to symbolically expressed their opposition to the coup in Myanmar. They were joined by the We Volunteer led by Piyarat "Toto" Chongthep', who with other Thai activists set out a public assembly to show their solidarity with the people of Myanmar. Public statements were read there by Piyarat "Toto" Chongthep, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak and Panusaya ‘Rung’ Sittijirawattanakul.

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At 3.45 P.M. after reading the statements and upon finding more people coming to join the protest, Piyarat decided to leave behind the sound system and the team of guards he has brought. The public assembly went on peacefully and some protesters started to occupy part of the road. At 16.16, the police announced that this public assembly should end and at 17.00, crowd control police were deployed standing in rows confronting the protesters. Clashes ensued as they hurled objects at the police and at least four people were put under arrest.

@gun_sangtong

Later, on 7 February 2021, a group of Myanmar people in Thailand were gathered in front of the United Nations building in Thailand. Initially after negotiation, the police allowed them to hold their public assembly at a confined spot, although Thai people were not allowed to join them. According to the police "Thai people tend to create disturbance and they want to join you. You separate yourselves from them." As the time allotted to the protest was yet up, more people have come to assemble. The police decided to ask them to disband citing a disease control requirement. Still, more people came to join them. The police then stood in rows and started to charge toward them. They have even taken photo of the demonstrators’ ID cards.

@gun_sangtong

As the dispersal of the crowd continued, the police were heard saying to the Myanmar people "Don’t let Thai people sow division among you." As the police have charged more forward, the demonstrators eventually conceded and disbanded. As far as we know, no one was put under arrest on that day.

The prompt crackdowns on both public assemblies show how the authorities are determined to end a public rally as soon as possible even though it has been proceeding peacefully. The clashes that ensued were apparently triggered by how the police charged in to disperse them. In addition, it has been found that the authorities have made attempts to stir up division among the demonstrators since they did not want the We Volunteer or Thai activists to join the mobilization against the coup of the people from Myanmar. Such move to separate Thai activists from Myanmar people has caused fear among the latter who want to use Thailand as their base for their advocacies.

"We need to protest every day until democracy is restored...We are now in the darkest time yet" said one Myanmar protester who told their compatriots to disband and return home when told so by the police. She fears that any clash between Thai people and the police including how they hurled objects at the police would take its toll on Myanmar people and it could lead to them being arrested. She further said that "We need to continue fighting - it does not matter how many more months or years we don’t know – until democracy is restored. We therefore need to toe the line." Even without elaborating on the ‘line’, it is clear she refers to the police’s instruction.

Another Myanmar said that he has no problem having Thai people joining the protest against the Myanmar coup. The more the better. We can help each other to fight. Whatever restriction imposed on the gatherings of the Myanmar, the Thai activists have been joining them several times.

# Ratsadon: The protesters’ rage and the police’s indiscriminate arrests

On 13 February 2021 at 3.00 P.M. at the Democracy Monument, the protesters led by “Ratsadon” were gathered for their #CountingOneToMillionRestoringPowerToThePeople event. As speeches were delivered, the protesters helped to remove flowers pots from the area around the Democracy Monument. Then around 18.00, they started to march toward the City Pillar Shrine purportedly to do some symbolic action there. They got stuck on the way facing rows of the police and barricades right in front of the Supreme Court buildings. It marked the 150-meter-radius from the Grand Palace. Attapon ‘Kru Yai’ Buapat, protest leader, led the negotiation asking for a chance to do some ritual inside the City Pillar Shrine and an agreement has been reached. Meanwhile at 19.38, Panupong “Mike” Chadnok announced through loudspeakers asking the police to turn off spotlights attached to the front grille of the police truck for five minutes.

@Thikamporn Tamtiang

@Thikamporn Tamtiang

@gun_sangtong

As Panupong was counting down, some protesters started to hurl objects over the barricade set up the police including some water bottles and firecrackers. At least two loud bangs were heard as one object hit the ground closer to the fences of Sanam Luang unleashing some flare which could be seen from behind the police line. The tumult and chaos lasted for around two minutes after which the hurling ground to a halt.

At 8.14 P.M., the protest leaders called off the public assembly, while there were around 100 protesters lingering by the side of the police line. They refused to budge saying it was not worth an assembly to end just now. It was not worth their travelling there and the win was not even in sight. They even said that the protest leaders had no power to order them. These protesters continued to hurl objects at the barricades using some bricks broken to fit the size of their hands, woods and water bottles. Some have landed on the police line while some have gone further in as the police still did not respond. They kept chanting “Free My Friends!” meaning the release of the four Ratsadon protest leaders remanded in custody by the Criminal Court since 9 February 2021.

@Thikamporn Tamtiang

During this clash, it was the first time the police’s voice was heard during their operation. Meanwhile, the protest leaders asked the protesters to return home and refrain from causing damage to public property. While holding up their shields, the police were heard clamoring, not very loud. The crowd control officers announced through speakers asking the police to keep their cool.

Eventually around 8.55 P.M., it was announced that the demonstrators had to vacate the area within 30 minutes. The first arrest was reportedly made at 21.09 and there were reports of the arrest and stomping on a volunteer medic from D.N.A. According to a video clip shot by a reporter from Khao Sod English, a man was lying down in the middle of several police officers and a male voice was heard saying “Look at what you people have done to us." Some officers were spreading their hands apparently to prevent other reporters from getting closer to the scene. In addition, there have been reports that the crowd control police were spotted holding shotguns used for firing rubber bullets during the crackdown of the public assembly.

On that day, at least 19 individuals were put under arrest including volunteer medics cladding reflective vests and a homeless person. There have been reports about an attempt to hold a high school student in custody while he was shooting photo, but he was released without charge later. This shows the pattern of indiscriminate arrests with no attempt to single out some protesters who appeared to harbor violence from the rest of the protesters.

# REDEM1: A new episode of police violence

In the wake of the clash on 13 February 2021, some protest leaders led by Panusaya ‘Rung’ Sittijirawattanakul have clarified how the movement is determined to adhere to nonviolence and some consideration was given to forming a nonviolent team. We Volunteer also asserted their faith in nonviolence as well.

The confrontational situation has gone better in later public assemblies including the ones in front of the Parliament during 19-20 February 2021 led by Mobfest and the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration. Even though crowd control officers were deployed along with water cannon trucks, but both sides kept their distance and a space was given to freedom of expression. On 23 February 2021 at the Royal Thai Police Headquarters, the Ratsadon organized #ElephantTicket demonstration to reflect on corruption scandal in the police organization and how some police officials could be transferred to other agencies and enjoyed rapid promotion through ranks due to an exemption to the rule prescribed by Pol Lt Gen Tosak Sukwimon and Maj. Gen. Chiraphop Phuridet.

On 28 February 2021, REDEM, an initiative of Free Youth, has called a demonstration at the Victory Monument and a march to the 1st Infantry Regiment. The police meanwhile put up a wall of stacked up containers and barbed wire along the road in front of the 1st Infantry Regiment. Upon their arrival at 17.40, the demonstrators started to remove the barbed wire and move the containers (the behavior of which resembled what happened during the public assembly on 27 November 2020 at the 11th Infantry Regiment without violence). Later at 18.02, the police were standing in rows lining up from the Royal Thai Army Club and the crackdown began at 18.13. The officers charged in and arrested as well as physically abused the protesters, i.e. by shoving and stomping on them. The frontline protesters facing the police line failed to respond in an orderly manner as some were spotted hurling objects including water paint and water bottles at the police.

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@Thikamporn Tamtiang

@Thikamporn Tamtiang

In addition, some protesters took out 60-centimeter-long wood from their bag and threw it at the police. According to our review of photos and testimonies of eyewitnesses, both the protesters and the police hurled at each other rocks. Then at 18.39, some protesters started to feel the effect of teargas and not long after at 18.52, rubber bullet shell casings were found and at around 21.00, the police used more force to disperse the remaining crowd coupled with the firing of water cannon and rubber bullets aiming at the head level of the protesters. The arrests took place while the protesters got physically abused. Some of them have been dragged from the medic tent set up in a Shell gas station.

The clash spread to farer area including in front of the Din Daeng Police Station where people hurling things at each other and police cars were set on fire. Meanwhile the police shot rubber bullets at the head level into the protesters. Such mayhem lasted until 01.00 A.M.

@gun_sangtong

Of late, the police are found to adopt more heavy-handed approach to prevent the exercise of freedoms. During the more recent clashes, the police appear to be increasingly ready to unleash violence to deter and prevent the exercise of freedom of assembly. Even though the police invoke laws such as the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations B.E. 2548 (2005) (The Emergency Decree), but the use of force by armed crowd control police to suppress peaceful and unarmed public assemblies could be tantamount to an excessive use of force and violence. And this can elicit response from the protesters fueled by their rage, and it could get uncontrollably exacerbated. In addition, the types of weapons used to suppress public assemblies imply a tendency toward the use of violence such as the firing of rubber bullets, which was first used to suppress a public assembly this year, since it was last used in October 2020.