BANGKOK — Three activists who campaigned for monarchy reforms said they were attacked by a group of hardline monarchy supporters at Ramkhamhaeng University on Thursday evening, which left one of them injured in the foot.
Police said the complaint was filed by one of the activists who reportedly suffered a sprained ankle following Thursday’s scuffle that, for many, shows the escalating tension between groups wanting reforms of the monarchy institution and opposing them.
Col. Lertsak Kiemsab, a superintendent at Hua Mak police station, told the media police are gathering evidence related to the alleged assault.
Both pro-reform activists and royalist hardliners were gathering at Ramkhamhaeng University on Wednesday afternoon, before the latter broke through the thin police lines separating the two sides and confronted the reformists, media reports and witnesses said.
Shouting between the two factions ensued, and soon escalated into a brawl at about 5.10pm, according to videos of the incident. The understrength police force at the scene took some minutes before they could stop the scuffles. Many students were seen running away from the chaos.
Ramkhamhaeng University directors on Thursday told the media they allowed the pro- and anti-reform groups to use their campus because they didn’t realize the rallies would turn violent.
“We oppose use of violence and would like to rebuke the individuals who commit such acts,” the university said in a statement. “We will not infringe on the students’ rights to express their opinions. We call on all sides to commit to non-violent principles, and we urge all sides to respect and organize their political activities within the legal boundaries.”
The statement added, “We are ready to provide legal assistance and care to those injured in the incident.”
Speaking to the media on Thursday, government spokeswoman Kannanat Patornsaubnukool said the public should also consider what transpired prior to the clash at Ramkhamhaeng University before making their judgement about who was right or wrong.
While she did say the pro-monarchy hardliners must answer to the law for “having the bigger share of fault” by assaulting others, Kannanat said the incident would not have happened if both sides refrained from provoking each other.
She also played a short video showing the pro- and anti-reform activists shouting at each other before the brawl took place.
Reforming the monarchy is one of the three demands put forth by the ongoing anti-government movement, apart from PM Prayut Chan-o-cha’s immediate resignation and a more democratic constitution.
Their campaign is seen by many older conservatives as a direct challenge to the monarchy, an institution that all Thais are required to hold in reverence by the 2017 Constitution.
Although much of the pro-establishment faction did not interfere with the reformist protests in recent weeks, a handful of ultraroyalists often staged provocative counter-rallies close by and accused the activists of attempting to overthrow the monarchy – a charge they denied.
This week also saw thousands of people attending rallies held nationwide to “express loyalty to the monarchy.” These events were mostly organized by local government agencies.