The Thai authorities must urgently investigate the shooting of protesters in Bangkok that has left one child in a critical condition, Amnesty International said after confirming that three children were injured by live rounds of ammunition during a demonstration outside a police station on Monday.
The mother of a 15-year-old protester told Amnesty that her son is in a coma and that a bullet – believed to be live ammunition – remains lodged in his skull. The organization confirmed that another protester, aged 14, suffered a bullet wound in the shoulder from live ammunition while a third protester, aged 16, was shot in the foot.
The Thai police have denied using live ammunition and it is unconfirmed who fired the shots.
“The use of live ammunition against protesters is a deeply concerning development. The Thai authorities must urgently investigate the shootings of these child protesters, including any unlawful use of firearms,” said Emerlynne Gil, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Deputy Director.
“Thailand’s government must also investigate all reports of excessive and unnecessary force by police against protesters over the past year, and bring to justice anyone found responsible of causing physical harm to protesters.”
Over recent weeks, protesters have flocked to Bangkok’s streets and around Thailand to voice concerns over the official handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and other political grievances. The authorities have ramped up their use of rubber bullets, water cannon and tear gas to disperse protests – even when protests have been peaceful.
In its recent report, Amnesty International called on Thai authorities to prioritize non-violent means, such as negotiation, mediation and dialogue, to de-escalate situations that might lead to violence.
The organization has also called on authorities to ensure that devices such as tear gas or water cannon are used only in situations of more generalized violence for the purpose of dispersing a crowd, and only when all other means have failed to contain the violence.
“Recent policing of assemblies, coupled with Thailand’s history of impunity for excessive and sometimes even lethal force against protesters, highlights the need for Thai authorities to change their approach. If they genuinely want to prevent human rights violations, they must stop repressing peaceful protest and instead facilitate and protect it,” said Emerlynne Gil.
“The police’s handling of protests, including those which are not peaceful, must be necessary and proportionate. Security forces must refrain from using the type of excessive force that has been seen repeatedly during protests since 2020.
“Police authorities must protect the rights of all peaceful protesters from disruption or violence by third party actors.”
On the night of 16 August 2021, live ammunition was fired at protesters near the Din Daeng police station in central Bangkok as police tried to disperse peaceful demonstrators. The police have denied using live ammunition.
Ratchavitee Hospital, which is treating the injured protesters, said on 17 August that a 15-year-old is in a coma after a bullet struck him in the head. The 14-year-old protester who was shot in the shoulder has now been released from hospital.
Tens of thousands of Thais took to the streets to demand democratic reforms in largely peaceful protests throughout 2020 and into 2021 in Bangkok, the capital, and in provinces across Thailand. Amnesty International has found that authorities responded to protests with escalating arbitrary use of tear gas, rubber bullets and other less-lethal weapons and have used unnecessary and excessive force, with an apparent lack of accountability. The Thai Civil court has called on police to exercise restraint in their policing of assemblies.
As protests have reignited in recent weeks, police have fired tear gas and water cannon at demonstrators and arrested and detained numerous peaceful protesters – including under emergency provisions ostensibly put in place? to tackle Covid-19 and despite the country’s prisons reporting thousands of infections in recent weeks.
According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, from July 2020 to August 2021, at least 800 individuals have faced criminal charges – including sedition, royal defamation, computer-related crime, violation of the emergency provisions – in 374 lawsuits for joining peaceful protests, 69 of them children.