FCCT denounces violent force

BANGKOK, 25 March 2021: Bangkok-based Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand released on Wednesday its strongest statements so far against the violent response of security forces against peaceful demonstrations on the streets of Bangkok.

The professional committee of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand said it was “very concerned by the injuries inflicted by rubber bullets on several journalists covering the protests around Sanam Luang on Saturday night. The police used water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters.

“We fully support the points raised in a statement by six Thai media associations and urge the Thai authorities to recognise that journalists covering the protests are doing their jobs and should not be targeted.

The National Press Council, the Thai Journalists Association, the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association, the Online News Providers Association, the News Broadcast Council of Thailand and the National Union of Journalists Thailand, have raised the following observation in response to the violent response to peaceful demonstrations:

  1. People have the right, under a democratic system, to protest peacefully, without provocation, weapons or the use of force.
  2. The police must take action, step by step, when dispersing protests and must clearly inform the protesters and the media in advance about the steps to be taken to avoid violence.

The FCCT statement draws attention to the United Nations guidelines on the use of non-lethal force, which stress that:

“The use of less-lethal weapons to disperse an assembly is an indiscriminate tactic and should only be considered a last resort. Dispersal may be considered where violence is serious and widespread and represents an imminent threat to bodily integrity or property, and where law enforcement officials have exhausted all reasonable measures to facilitate the assembly and protect participants from harm.”

The guidelines also state that rubber bullets should only be aimed at the lower body area of individuals identified as posing a specific risk and should never be aimed at the head. On Saturday night, one journalist had to be hospitalised after being struck in the head by a rubber bullet.

The FCCT urges the Thai authorities to review their crowd-control procedures in view of the injuries suffered on Saturday night and to take particular care not to use force on working journalists and peaceful protesters.

The police response at the weekend cast the spotlight on months of mostly peaceful demonstrations in the Thai capital. It represents a major escalation by police and security officers at a time when the world’s media spotlight shines on the brutal crackdown ordered by the military junta in neighbouring Myanmar. It resulted in the indiscriminate shooting of peaceful protesters seeking the democratically elected government’s return. International media will draw parallels that present a picture of growing insecurity in the two ASEAN member countries as social media generations demand change.

This week, Thailand is struggling to cope with a new outbreak of Covid-19 infections in and around Bangkok, but even if the country opens to travellers in the coming months, the spectre of violence against protesters on the streets of the Thai capital flashed on TV screens worldwide will derail efforts to win back traveller confidence.

In Myanmar, peaceful protesters describe in social media posts the emergence of “military terrorism” on city streets. They accuse the coup leaders of ordering security forces to indiscriminately shoot into crowds of peaceful demonstrators and fire directly into homes. So far, more than 260 people have been killed by the junta, including the fatal shooting of a seven-year-old child when security forces fired on residences Monday.