As daily protests against the government continue in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, activists report that dozens were arrested in a weekend crackdown. During a violent attempt to disperse protesters on Saturday, September 11, Thai police arrested 78 people, including nine minors and 20 who were not even protesters. According to the police, 52 were under detention over the weekend.
The arrests took place at the Din Daeng intersection central in Bangkok. Over the past month, Din Daeng has emerged as one of the key protest sites in Bangkok for pro-democracy groups, with several groups organizing simultaneous protests at the site almost every day.
According to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), which reported the updated figures on detentions, the police violence also led to arrests and attacks on bystanders, like taxi drivers and roadside vendors near the protest site, along with several people who were under the age of 18.
Of those arrested, 25 were medical volunteers assisting injured protesters. The police also confirmed that at least two were Cambodian nationals.
Meanwhile, journalists and media persons present at the protest site also faced police repression. Many reported being prevented from filming or were asked to end their live feed of the protests and leave. Reports suggested that the police also threatened some journalists by charging them with violating the Emergency Decree in place.
According to Prachatai, violence between the crowd-control police and the protesters broke out on Saturday evening. The police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd gathered at Din Daeng, and the protesters retaliated with firecrackers and other small explosives.
During the crackdown, the police reportedly also fired tear gas and rubber bullets into nearby houses and apartment buildings. Residents of the area, alerted by the violence and demanding an answer from the police for the damage caused to their property, were also threatened with arrest for supposedly breaking curfew.
Those arrested were taken to different police stations and detention centers near Din Daeng. While the medical volunteers were released without charge, most others were held until they were presented before the court on Monday.
Prachatai also reported that in some places like the Din Daeng police station, which was heavily fortified and barricaded, the police even prevented lawyers from meeting the detainees.
Activists and pro-democracy groups roundly condemned the police. Feminist’s Liberation Front of Thailand condemned the violence inflicted on the protesters, calling the crackdown “exaggerated” violence and excessive. The activist group Mok Laung Rim Nam held a demonstration on Sunday, September 12, against the violence.
In response to the police’s massive arrests and violent crackdowns in recent months, opposition groups and activist groups, like the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration and Thalufah, have stated that they will start posting observers and witnesses in the protests.
Despite widespread criticisms of its actions, the Bangkok unit of the Thai police, Metropolitan Police Bureau, warned of further arrests if the protests continued while the Emergency Decree was in place. In a statement on Sunday, the police also gave veiled threats to young protesters, warning that parents of minors arrested may also face charges under the Child Protection Act.
A new wave of protests led by student groups and grassroots coalitions like the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship or the Red Shirts against the military-supported government of prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha began in Bangkok earlier this month after the government survived the confidence motion.
The government is currently under fire for its mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the allegations of corruption in vaccine procurement leveled by opposition groups.