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Press groups condemn Thai police for protest crackdowns

Officers accused of attacking journalists in latest protest in which female TV reporter was critically injured

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

Published: March 22, 2021 05:00 PM GMT

Updated: March 23, 2021 09:24 AM GMT

 Press groups condemn Thai police for protest crackdowns

Riot police stand in formation with their shields as they disperse pro-democracy protesters during an anti-government demonstration in Bangkok on March 20, 2021. (Photo: Mladen Antonov/AFP) 

Prominent journalist associations in Thailand have jointly condemned what they said was police brutality after a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters last weekend left several journalists injured, one of them critically.

Six media professional associations, including the National Press Council, the Thai Journalists' Association, and the National Union of Journalists Thailand, issued a statement on March 23, calling on police to exercise restraint in their response to peaceful protests.

Police in riot gear fired rubber bullets at protesters during a pro-democracy rally near Bangkok’s Grand Palace on March 20. Police also targeted civilians with tear gas and high-powered water cannons, witnesses said.
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Among the injured were several journalists, clearly identified as such with their press kits, in addition to numerous protesters, most of them of student age.

One journalist working for a prominent anti-establishment online forum was shot in the back, leaving him with a large coin-sized wound.

A female journalist reporting for a Thai television channel was shot in the head and taken to hospital where she was reportedly in critical condition.

“The use of less-lethal weapons to disperse an assembly is an indiscriminate tactic and should only be considered as a last resort,” The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT), which represents
foreign journalists in the country, said in its own statement issued on March 22, citing a rule of conduct by the United Nations.

The FCCT urged Thai authorities “to recognize that journalists covering the protests are doing their jobs and should not be targeted.”

Police actions caught on camera against mostly young protesters during recent pro-democracy rallies have shocked many Thais.

However, Royal Thai Police spokesman Yingyos Thepjamnong defended the police's actions, saying they were necessary to disperse large crowds and to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Bangkok’s deputy police chief, Piya Tawichai, in turn, blamed the protesters for the violence. “Demonstrators began the violence,” he said. “The police were on the defensive since we were tasked with enforcing laws and defending public property.”

Some 1,000 people gathered near Bangkok’s Grand Palace on March 20 to demand democratic reforms as part of months-long student-led protests against the administration of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former army chief who has been in power since he led a military coup to oust an elected government in May 2014.

Police had erected barricades with razor wire, including shipping containers, to stop protesters from nearing the Grand Palace.

When some of the protesters set about removing the obstacles, police began firing at them with rubber bullets, teargas, and water cannon.

According to the rights group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, 32 protesters were arrested, including seven minors.

In recent weeks Thai authorities have stepped up action to snuff out the protests and also charged many protesters with a variety of crimes that could, if convicted, land them in prison for years.

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