RECAP: Pro-democracy demonstration staged at Democracy Monument in Bangkok yesterday sees high tension and small clashes with riot police throughout the night

Bangkok –

A group of pro-democracy supporters arrived at the Democracy Monument of Bangkok with a peaceful atmosphere yesterday at around 3:30 PM., yesterday, February 13th, after the ‘Ratsadon’ (People’s) group announced the major rally on Friday via social media.

The demonstrators began their first symbolic movement at around 6:00 PM. when they started removing the plants surrounding the Democracy Monument before covering it with a massive red banner with scribbled messages against the government and Thailand’s lese majeste law. Up to this point, however, the protest had remained peaceful and law enforcement stayed at a distance other than a brief warning that the protest was against the current Emergency Decree-law to fight the Covid-19 virus, which bans mass gatherings and rallies, including protests. The warning, given by Bangkok police, was greeted by boos and ignored by the protesters, who did however wear masks.

The ‘Ratsadon’ protest organizers then called a march to the city pillar shrine, located next to the Grand Palace, to take action and demand the release of their four prominent protest leaders who were captured and denied bail for Section 112, or lese majeste charge, by the Criminal Court last week. This action, however, drew heavy police attention due to concerns around the protesters approaching the palace. Organizers, however, insisted their destination was the city pillar and not the palace and would not breach palace grounds.

A heavy line of police barricades was deployed in front of the Rattanakosin Hotel on the Ratchadumnoen road leading to the palace. Some water cannon trucks were reportedly spotted at the scene but were not utilized. One of the leading protesters, Attapon Buapat, negotiated with the police officers, asking some of the pro-democracy representatives and volunteer guards to go into the city pillar shrine for a symbolic ritual.

The officials then agreed to allow four protesters and a small group of volunteer guard front-liners inside the city pillar shrine for symbolic ritual activity at around 8:00 PM. Meanwhile, minor clashes between both sides were accelerating a small number of protesters, primarily teenagers according to eyewitnesses, who had reportedly started throwing objects, including smoke bombs and fireworks, towards the police. Other volunteer guards and protest leaders had managed to push the small group of protesters who appeared to be aggravating and trying to escalate the situation back in the meantime. The volunteer guards later stated that they believed the protesters attempting to escalate the situation was a third party but didn’t clarify who they were exactly, trying specifically to escalate the situation. The Ratsadon group has stressed repeatedly they are peaceful, however, a small minority of protesters at recent protests have appeared to be provocative and more aggressive, including allegedly damaging and vandalizing property and trying to provoke law enforcement.

Attapon then called the end of the demonstration as of 8:25 PM. and said that the Ratsadon group would stage another rally on February 20th, if all of their protest leaders were not released within 7 days from today. Four prominent protest leaders are currently in jail without bail for alleged lese majeste violations at prior rallies, which led to the rally that took place yesterday.

However, the group of smaller, but more vocal and provocative protesters remained at the protest site, causing another tense situation between these protesters and riot police despite protest leaders and volunteer guards urging people to de-escalate and go home. Plastic and glass bottles, paint, and firework style devices were reportedly being thrown at the police. The sound of what appeared to be explosive noises was also heard constantly at the site.

As of 8:57 PM., police announced the protest dispersal and told the remaining demonstrators to leave the site by 9:30 PM. otherwise, they would perform a strict riot control dispersal in accordance with the Emergency Decree-law.

Tensions remained high as protesters were still gathering at the scene. The sound of the explosive devices was heard many more times. Some protesters, including reportedly a volunteer medic, were detained and reportedly beaten during the dispersal, according to several media sources and eyewitnesses.

At today’s press conference, Police Lieutenant General Pakkapong Pongpetra, chief of the Metropolitan Police Bureau, said the police had dealt with protesters with bare hands and shields. He claims they did not use violence and did not use a water cannon truck at any cause.

Regarding the medical volunteer who was reportedly captured being beaten by the police last night, the chief claimed that the volunteer nurse in question was not registered and was at the protest site without proper registration. However, the police would need more evidence and investigation for confirmation of what exactly happened and the incident was allegedly under review.

According to his statement, more than 20 police officers were injured and were taken to a police hospital and 11 people were arrested and initially taken to Chana Songkram police station after the clash. 

8 among the arrested people were confirmed demonstrators and are now being detained at the Region 1 Border Control Police station in Pathum Thani for allegedly violating the Emergency Decree and the Disease Control Decree.

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