BANGKOK — Organizers of the next anti-government protest said Thursday they will only reveal its time and location tomorrow, a day before the demonstration is set to kick off.
Benja Apan, an activist from the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, said the group wants to assess the situation after the no-confidence debate concludes on Friday. She also vowed to do more to avoid clashes between hardline demonstrators and riot police, like what happened at the protest on Feb. 13.
“We can still carry out activities within the framework of nonviolent methods, but we will have to explain to our supporters what peaceful tactics there are. We will have to do more homework,” Benja said in a phone interview. “We will give information about nonviolence, both on social media and in speeches on [Saturday].”
Benja said activities to promote peaceful struggles include discussion to be held on the Clubhouse application at 8pm Thursday night, while leaflets about nonviolence will be distributed at Saturday’s rally.
The previous demonstration on Feb. 13 ended in a night of violence and chaos after hardline elements of the protesters broke off from the main body and threw projectiles at riot police. They also refused to disperse even after organizers called off the rally, which soon led to clashes with riot police who attempted to clear the area.
By the time the violence subsided, the Erawan medical emergency center reported that at least 25 people were injured, including 20 police officers and five civilians. Two protest guards said they were shot by unidentified assailants, who fled the scene. One volunteer medic was beaten by riot police.
Images and videos of frontline demonstrators throwing objects at police were also seized by pro-establishment social media accounts to paint the protesters as a violent and unruly mob.
Piyarat “Toto” Chongthep, the leader of WeVo group, which provided security at protest sites, said said on the phone Thursday that he will urge his supporters members of his network via Facebook Live tonight to avoid violence.
Success is not guaranteed, however. It was also WeVo members who were seen splashing paint at riot police on the night of Feb. 13.
“We’ll have to avoid clashes as much as possible, but it’s difficult, because the emotion of the protesters can escalate very far,” Piyarat said. “As a preliminary measure, I will talk about this on Facebook Live. I will talk about how to handle security officers and organized groups of the pro-monarchy people.”
The WeVo leader also maintained that his group has always been committed to nonviolence.
“We urged each other not to respond to the security forces and refrain from using weapons, because it would grant the security officers a justification to respond [with violence],” Piyarat said. “But it’s hard to control people’s emotions. If the leaders build up the emotion, they must also bring it down.”
Pro-democracy activist Sirawith Seritiwat, aka Ja New, said he was initially invited to speak on stage at the Feb. 13 protest, but organizers changed their plan and marched from Democracy Monument toward Sanam Luang instead, leading to the clashes.
“It depends on the leaders whether they can control the situation. People sometimes lost control of themselves and ordered a charge. They must be conscious all the time,” Sirawith said by phone. “They said they would stick to nonviolence, but they couldn’t stop the violence.”
He also questioned the decision to march on Sanam Luang last week, since the area was close to the Grand Palace and considered sensitive by the authorities.
“Perhaps Sanam Luang was the heart of the regime,” Sirawith said. “They will defend it with the fullest effort. If the protesters don’t have enough people, they shouldn’t risk entering the 150 meter radius from the palace.”
Benja, the organizer of the upcoming protest on Saturday, would not say where the rally would take place. But she said the leaders will insist on the three key demands for a new constitution, PM Prayut Chan-o-cha’s resignation, and reforms to make the monarchy more accountable, as well as calling for the release of four protest leaders currently held in a remand prison.
The four leaders are Arnon Nampa, Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak and Patiwat “Bank” Saraiyam. They were charged with insulting the monarchy and sedition for their role in the protest on Sept. 19.
The Criminal Court denied their second bail application on Wednesday, saying there is no reason to change the stance on the cases. The four have been in pre-trial detention for 10 days now.