Thai cops opened the whoop-ass on peaceful protesters because COVID: health minister

A line of police in riot gear march against a peaceful protest Monday evening outside Myanmar’s Sathon Road embassy in Bangkok. Image: Opol999 / Twitter
A line of police in riot gear march against a peaceful protest Monday evening outside Myanmar’s Sathon Road embassy in Bangkok. Image: Opol999 / Twitter

A day after police violently suppressed a protest outside the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok, a top official said today it was done for their own health.

Riot police had to move in and forcefully disperse the peaceful, anti-coup rally on lower Sathon Road last night because they were concerned about people catching COVID-19, said Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, adding that they shouldn’t have been protesting in the first place.

“It’s a problem in their home, why do we have to make a fuss about it here?” Anutin said.

Top metro cop Lt. Col. Pakkapong Pongpetra today said protesters violated disease control measures and the emergency decree by rallying to demand Myanmar’s military stand down after seizing power – a sensitive topic to Thailand’s military-dominated government. Pakkapong said the cops had no choice but to break up the rally after those present failed to disperse.

He said 15 officers were injured by smoke bombs and other objects such as traffic cones thrown by protesters. Three people were arrested and taken to the nearby Yan Nawa Police Station.

Protest leader Piyarat Chongthep said today that police initiated the violence by striking people with batons, leading some to push back against them so others could flee safely. He said seven people were injured in his group We Volunteer, which organized the rally, mostly in the form of bruises sustained by punches and baton blows. The scenes of police-instigated violence sent #ThaiPoliceAreSociety’sGarbage to top-trending territory on Thai Twitter today.

The rally was staged after Myanmar’s military announced Monday morning it had seized power after jailing President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. About 200 Myanmar and Thai nationals joined the rally, according to legal reform group iLaw. It remained peaceful until police decked out in riot gear moved in at about 5pm to force them out.

Clashes broke out after the police moved in, with officers marching in formation and swinging their clubs as some in the crowd threw traffic cones and signs while retreating.

The rally was called off at around 6:30pm after three arrests were made, two of which were We Volunteer members and another iLaw said was a Thammasat University student.

Thailand’s government, led by military holdovers from its own 2014 coup, hasn’t weighed in directly on the putsch carried out by their Myanmar counterparts. A tight-lipped Prayuth Chan-o-cha, the general-cum-prime minister who led the 2014 coup, today only referred questions to a brief statement by ASEAN chair Brunei that encouraged “a return to normalcy” and vaguely recalled the principles of democracy. Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan, another former army commander turned coup-maker, dismissed it yesterday as Myanmar’s “domestic issue.” 

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