BANGKOK — Three pro-democracy campaigners assaulted by men they believe to be acting on the junta’s orders said Monday they have sought police protection.
Citing fears of further harm from mysterious assailants, the activists said they set aside their suspicions and requested both formal and informal assistance from the police – before balking at the condition that they must quit politics while the protection is in place.
Sirawith “Ja New” Seritiwat, who spent over a week in hospital after a group of men attacked him with batons as he was leaving his house on June 28, said the Witness Protection Bureau offered to enroll him in its service, provided he no longer participates in political rallies.
“I told them I would like to think about it first,” Sirawith said by phone Monday – his first media interview since the assault left him with serious facial and head injuries.
Sirawith, who was discharged from hospital yesterday, said his family has requested that local police keep an eye on his residence for now. He added that he would appreciate some form of police protection by next week, as he has to leave his home to follow up criminal cases he filed against his assailants and attend medical checkups.
Speaking to reporters today, deputy junta chairman Prawit Wongsuwan said it’s up to the police to set the conditions for its protection programs. None of the four attackers who ambushed Sirawith have been identified so far.
An Offer They Have to Refuse
Campaigner Ekachai Hongkangwan said the Bureau of Witness Protection laid out a similar offer of protection in exchange for quitting politics.
Ekachai, who has been beaten, punched and doused with fermented fish, said he signed the agreement out of fear for his safety, but has no intention to stop participating in political activities.
“There’s no choice,” Ekachai said by phone. “In the end, even if you don’t trust [the police], so what? I don’t have a choice.”
The 60-day agreement, which he signed a month ago, dictates that he can neither post political messages on social media nor join political rallies. But Ekachai says he has openly flaunted the ban. In fact, he said he has even attended demonstrations with plainclothes policemen assigned to watch over him.
“If they want to annul the contract then they can do so,” said Ekachai, though he added that his minders told him the bureau is aware of him breaching the agreement. Ekachai has been assaulted seven times over the past year.
The Bureau of Witness Protection, which operates under the Ministry of Justice, was not available for comments as of publication time.
Activist Anurak Jeantawanich, who was beaten by a group of masked men wielding wooden sticks in April, said in today’s interview he declined the same offer from the bureau.
Instead, Anurak said he negotiated with local police to receive some protection. He also said he is toning down his public campaigns in order to be on the safe side.
“I don’t think the police can afford me 100 percent protection,” the activist said. “But I’m trying to work with them and am reducing the likelihood of being assaulted by taking precautions in expressing myself politically, for example.”
Anurak questioned whether the military government is dangling personal safety as a reward for not resisting.
“What the dictator wants is for us to stop political activism,” Anurak said.
Additional reporting Teeranai Charuvastra