Updated: August 20, 2021 05:08 AM GMT
A young protester motions others to retreat after tear gas is fired towards them during clashes with police in Bangkok, Thailand, on Aug. 18. (Photo: AFP)
Amnesty International has called on Thailand to investigate credible allegations that its police used excessive force against non-violent protesters, including live bullets that left three children injured.
“The use of live ammunition against protesters is a deeply concerning development. The Thai authorities must urgently investigate the shootings of these child protesters, including any unlawful use of firearms,” said Emerlynne Gil, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific deputy director.
A 15-year-old boy is in a coma with a bullet still lodged in his skull. Another protester, aged 14, suffered a bullet wound in the shoulder, while a third, aged 16, was shot in the foot, according to a rights activist who spoke to the parents.
Thai authorities have been resorting to increasingly violent means to try and disperse crowds of young protesters calling for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to resign, though police have denied using live ammunition.
Large groups of high school, college and university students started taking to the streets of Bangkok in July last year calling for democratic reforms.
Thai authorities responded by arresting numerous leaders and members of the grassroots student movement while charging them with various crimes including sedition and royal defamation, both of which carry heavy penalties such as long prison sentences.
The halting mass vaccination drive has been mired in controversy with allegations of malfeasance, corruption and incompetence
The students returned to the streets in recent weeks to call for Prayut, a former army chief who seized power in a coup in 2014, to resign over his poor handling of the raging coronavirus outbreak.
Nearly a million Thais have become infected and around 8,500 have died, most of them since April, according to official figures.
The prolonged lockdown proved ineffective in containing the spread of Covid-19 and ended up devastating the economy, leading to record high unemployment and growing poverty.
The halting mass vaccination drive has been mired in controversy with allegations of malfeasance, corruption and incompetence.
Faced by regular student-led street rallies, police have employed phalanxes of officers in riot gear against young protesters, shooting tear gas, jets of water from cannons and rubber bullets at them.
Amnesty International said this brutal response of Thai authorities to peaceful protesters is a grave violation of human rights.
“Recent policing of assemblies, coupled with Thailand’s history of impunity for excessive and sometimes even lethal force against protesters, highlights the need for Thai authorities to change their approach,” Gil said.
She further called on Thailand’s government to “also investigate all reports of excessive and unnecessary force by police against protesters over the past year, and bring to justice anyone found responsible of causing physical harm to protesters."
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