Youthful anti-government protestors battle police and flee from tear gas in Baangkok. (Photo: Tyler Roney for the Bangkok Herald)
Youthful anti-government protestors battle police and flee from tear gas in Baangkok. (Photo: Tyler Roney for the Bangkok Herald)

Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission had determined police used excessive force against protesters during youth-led pro-democracy rallies last year, repeatedly violating their human rights.

Throughout last year, police in riot gear launched violent crackdowns in Bangkok on peaceful demonstrators calling for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who has been in power since overthrowing the elected government in 2014.

Numerous protesters, including minors, were injured, some of them severely, in widely documented instances that shocked rights observers, including the use of batons, tear gas, water cannon, rubber bullets and even live ammunition.

In its latest findings, the NHRC said many police routinely employed crowd-control measures that contravened the United Nations Human Rights Guidance on Less Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement.

The rights body also dismissed claims by police that they had simply responded to forceful resistance initiated by some protesters during attempted arrests, saying that even in such cases the use of excessive force by police was unwarranted.

Several protesters reported having been tortured during interrogation at police stations.

The NHRC said it had found some of these allegations credible, saying for instance that police officers had used cable ties to restrain arrestees, including minors, in clear violation of their rights.

Detainees had been denied access to legal representation in contravention of laws and norms pertaining to the detention of suspects, according to rights advocates.

The findings by the NHRC are in line with earlier allegations by prominent international rights bodies such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which have been calling on Thai authorities to restrain from employing excessive force against peaceful demonstrators.

Ironically, shortly after the Thai rights body released its findings late last week, three female student activists were roughed up when they unfurled banners with a pro-democracy message during a public event attended by HM King Vajiralongkorn and his entourage.

The young demonstrators held up signs that called for Thailand’s controversial royal defamation law, which prescribes long prison sentences for any criticism of the monarchy, to be abolished.

As they did so, they were set upon by men and women dressed in the royalist yellow who assaulted them and dragged them away.

According to photos and a video clip posted online of the incident, the female demonstrators suffered injuries such as bruises and bloodied lips as they were mobbed by plainclothes officers.

The protesters told a Thai pro-democracy website that they had been hauled off into a nearby alley where they were forced to wait until the royal motorcade left.

During their ordeal they were allegedly pushed to the ground violently by police officers who caused injuries to them, including cuts on lips and hands.

The activists were then taken to a police station and later released after being charged with causing a public disturbance and failing to comply with police orders.

A version of this story first appeared in UCA News, a Bangok Herald partner.