BANGKOK — Police officers forcefully broke up a peaceful demonstration of student activists who were marking the first anniversary of the 2014 military coup d’etat on Friday night, leaving one student hospitalized.
The anti-coup protest was held in front of Bangkok Art and Culture Center, in the heart of downtown Bangkok, at around 6 pm yesterday. More than 30 students joined the gathering, and over 200 police officers were dispatched to contain the protesters.
The students stood with their arms locked for about half an hour before police started arresting some members of the group around 6:20 pm, leading to skirmishes between the police and students.
Determined to hold their ground, the remaining students sat down and shouted at the police to “release our friends.” Police then forcefully dragged away the remaining activists.
By 8.30 pm, all of the protesters, 27 men and 6 women, had been arrested and taken to Pathumwan Police Station for interrogation.
One student reportedly passed out because of police abuse and was sent to Hua Chiew Hospital. Prachatai news site identified him as Songtham Kaewpanpruek, a member of the Thai Student Center for Democracy (TSCD).
Several dozen people gathered in front of Pathumwan Police Station last night to demand the students’ release.
At around 6:10 am today, all 33 students were released from police custody after signing an MOU promising not to engage in any further protests against the junta.
Voice TV quoted a police officer at Pathumwan Police Station as saying that police merely “invited” the students for a discussion.
Protests of any kind are currently banned by the ruling military junta, known as the National Council for Peace and Order.
Seven student activists were also arrested in the northeastern province of Khon Kaen yesterday after they unfurled a banner that said, “Oppose the Coup.” They were released at around 9.30 am this morning.
In a statement published last night, Amnesty International called the arrests “a stark reminder of ongoing repression” in junta-ruled Thailand.
“Peaceful protesters must not be arbitrarily arrested or detained just because they raise uncomfortable topics or defy military rule,” Richard Bennett, Asia-Pacific Programme Director at Amnesty International, said in the statement.
He added ,”The authorities must respect and even protect peaceful dissent and lift draconian restrictions on expression and assembly in Thailand – in law and practice.”
Clarification: It has been disputed by other witnesses whether some police officers were using electric batons when they broke up the protest, as the original version of this article reported.