BANGKOK — At least 20 people were taken into custody after riot police broke up a protest calling for a monarchy reform at Sanam Luang on Saturday night, police said Sunday.
The rally outside the Grand Palace was organized by the REDEM group, who had said they planned to have demonstrators throw paper planes with messages over the palace walls.
The protesters, who numbered close to 1,000, gathered at Sanam Luang, where they were met with a massive barricade made of shipping containers to defend palace grounds. They proceeded to dismantle the obstacle installed by the police, to which the police retaliated with water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets as they moved in to clear out the remaining protesters in the vicinity.
“Demonstrators began the violence,” deputy Bangkok police commander Piya Tawichai said. “The police were on the defense, since we were tasked to enforce laws and defend public property. Although the protesters claimed that they are leaderless, our investigation found that they actually have leaders, but they are not coming forward.”
Police said a total of 20 people were arrested during the crackdown on protesters last night, though the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights group reported as many as 32 people, including seven minors, were taken into custody.
They faced six charges, which include breaking the Emergency Decree’s ban on mass gatherings, causing public disturbance, and resisting arrests, police said.
Khaosod English correspondents at the scene said police appeared to rely heavily on rubber bullets than any crowd control measures on Saturday night, especially during smaller clashes that flared up at multiple locations along the historic Ratchadamnoen Avenue as demonstrators hurled objects, including devices believed to be firecrackers, and set fires to deter riot police.
Bangkok’s emergency medical service center said a total of 33 people were injured. Twenty of them were civilians, while 13 of them were police officers.
At least three reporters, including Khaosod’s Thanyalak Wannakote and Prachatai’s Sarayut Tangprasert, were hit by rubber bullets. Police said they were hit by stray bullets as officers had already warned them to leave the area.
“We instructed police officers to use riot control measures in accordance with the regulations,” Maj. Gen. Piya said. “We insured warnings to journalists, volunteer medical workers, and civilians to disperse. However, not all of them left, so some were hit by stray bullets during the commotion. The metro police chief has already acknowledged and will visit the victims.”
— Prachatai English (@prachatai_en) March 20, 2021
Thai media guilds issued a joint statement Sunday asking every party to show tolerance, though it did not condemn police use of force on journalists on the frontline.
“Journalists working at protest sites must strictly observe the guidelines for reporting during a crisis to prevent loss of lives and properties,” the statement wrote. “Journalists working at protest sites should wear an identification armband every time, however it is not guaranteed to protect them from violence.”
The REDEM group, short for Restart Democracy, claims to have no leaders and relies on opinion polls on the Telegram messaging app to make key decisions. The group said they will call for another rally on Sunday after the majority voted for, though they have yet to announce the venue.