Rift Grows Between Activists Over Guard Misconduct at Protest

Anti-government protest at Lat Phrao Intersection on Dec. 2, 2020.
Anti-government protest at Lat Phrao Intersection on Dec. 2, 2020.

BANGKOK — The split between the protesters’ security network deepened after one of the guards was caught on camera kicking a vehicle close to Wednesday’s anti-government protest.

The guard in question was said to belong to a Redshirt guard group, who consists mostly of supporters of ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra. Police said the motorist was planning to file charges. The incident also drew condemnation from a major donor of the protests.

“Every guard unit, every team, understands and cooperates with the protocol except the Redshirt guard unit,” activist and actress Intira “Sai” Charoenpura wrote online.

“When we asked them to submit their names, they viewed it as if we were wary and infringing on them,” Intira continued. “I don’t know what else to say except I want to ask them to return the self-issued armbands and join the rallies as a protester.”

Read: ‘WeVo’ Protest Guards Withdraw Amid Infighting, Assault

Another key activist, Pakorn Pornchewangkurn, also said the misbehaving guard belongs to the Redshirt security group, who was not formally part of the protest organizers.

“This is what we have done so far: we stripped the perpetrator of his armband and asked him to leave the protests,” Pakorn wrote online.

Members of the Redshirt guards were manning one of the roadblocks close to Lat Phrao Intersection on Wednesday when a man reportedly removed a traffic cone installed by the protesters and attempted to drive through the rally site.

In the video that went viral, one of the guards can be seen kicking a car after it drove through the roadblock. Other guards, some of them clad in balaclava, then surrounded the car and questioned the driver’s intention. The unidentified driver said he wanted to head to the Victory Monument to pick up his children.

Sombat Tongyoi, the leader of the Redshirt guard unit involved in the incident, apologized for the guard’s action, but he also lashed out at comments made by Intira and Pakorn.

“Tell me straight, are the Redshirt guards so bad?” Sombat wrote on his Facebook. “I’m working and what else do you want from me or my team?”

Protesters' security details stand guard next to protest leader Panupong “Mike” Jadnok at the protest on Dec. 2, 2020.
Protesters’ security details stand guard next to protest leader Panupong “Mike” Jadnok at the protest on Dec. 2, 2020.

Deputy Bangkok police chief Piya Tawichai said the motorist has filed a complaint against the guard.

“A peaceful assembly is constitutional rights, but if the protest guards harm members of the public and properties, it is illegal actions and they must be prosecuted,” Piya said. “This case is personal wrongdoing. One victim has filed a complaint with the police.”

Security Matters

Debates soon followed online, pitting those who agreed with the Redshirt guards’ action and those who believed they should have been more patient.

“While the Redshirts are saying that they are supporting the youths, those intellectuals are pushing them out,” user @padkaprao_ tweeted. “The Redshirt guards had to kick the car because they were concerned about the safety of the demonstrators.”

“I’m not standing on the guards’ side,” user @JunePeop tweeted. “They obviously did wrong. They have no right to do that even though the car was breaking through. How can we be sure of our safety if the guards couldn’t control themselves?”

The incident is yet another sign of the growing rift among the pro-democracy activists, some of whom are worried that unregulated security details at rally sites could prove counterproductive to the movement.

Rubber ducks being passed to the main stage during the protest on Dec. 2, 2020.
Rubber ducks being passed to the main stage during the protest on Dec. 2, 2020.

One of the largest groups of security guards, We Volunteer, already ceased their operations after one of their members was reportedly assaulted by another guard unit while trying to verify their identification.

The situation is complicated by the fact that up to 19 guard units were present at Wednesday night’s protest – many of them with their own command structures and organizations.

Protest leader Panupong “Mike” Jadnok attempted to bring a sense of order by asking all of the protesters’ volunteer guard units to submit their names to him, although it is unclear how many will comply.

A leader of the “Guard Coalition for the People,” an umbrella organization for the protest security network, said the two sides should communicate more.

“I understand that Inthira has a good intention to save the public image of the guards, while Sombat might have expressed his opinion with anger,” Kitpiwat Sriboonruang said.

Asked what the guards should do in a similar scenario, Kitpiwat said they should ask the motorists where they want to go. If their destination is inside the rally site, then they should be allowed to pass through the checkpoint.

“Indeed, it may cause troubles for motorists, but we’re doing it to pressure the government,” said Kitpiwat, whose group counts about 1,000 members. “However, it doesn’t mean that the roads are completely shut, motorists can still get to their home or workplace within the protest site.”

Yesterday’s protest at Lat Phrao Intersection concluded shortly after midnight without any further incident. The demonstrators have yet to reveal their target for the next protest.