Thai youth face ‘severe repercussions’ for taking part in mass demonstrations: Amnesty

A photo file of police shooting chemical-laced water cannons against the anti-government protesters in late 2020. Photo: Chayanit Itthipongmaetee / Coconuts Bangkok
A photo file of police shooting chemical-laced water cannons against the anti-government protesters in late 2020. Photo: Chayanit Itthipongmaetee / Coconuts Bangkok

By Amnesty International

Thai authorities have arrested, prosecuted, surveilled and intimidated child protesters taking part in mass demonstrations, Amnesty International said today.

The group’s new report We are Reclaiming Our Future, which is based on interviews with 30 youth protesters and activists across the country, calls for charges to be dropped and an end to all harassment discouraging children from joining protests.

Compared to previous waves of protest in Thailand, the large-scale demonstrations between 2020 and 2022 were overwhelmingly carried out by secondary school students under 18 demanding educational, political, economic, and social reforms to what they viewed as a paternalistic and rigidly conservative establishment. LGBTQ+ and Indigenous children, and youth from ethnic minority groups also played major roles.

To date, nearly 300 under-18s have been charged with crimes, with some facing years in prison on serious charges such as sedition or insulting the monarchy, the first time Thailand’s lese majeste law was known to have been used against children. The majority were accused of violating public assembly rules set out in a pandemic-related Emergency Decree that was in place for two and a half years.

Protesters raised three-finger salutes Thursday at Bangkok’s Ratchaprasong Intersection. Photo: Chayanit Itthipongmaetee / Coconuts Bangkok

“Children with their whole lives ahead of them now face severe repercussions merely for participating in peaceful protests,” said Chanatip Tatiyakaroonwong, Amnesty International’s Thailand researcher. “Thailand has a legal obligation to guarantee children’s right to freedom of peaceful assembly, but instead, exercising that right has come at a steep cost for protesters, who are potentially facing decades behind bars.”

Harmful tactics

Amnesty International documented a variety of tactics used to suppress the right to protest. Authorities routinely monitored or surveilled pro-democracy child protesters; directly intimidated children from ethnic minority groups for taking part in public assemblies; and asked unnecessary and invasive questions during background checks, such as whether the individual had relationships with someone of the same sex.

A Bangkok-based 13-year-old child protester identified only as Chompoo for her safety told Amnesty International that she has been followed around by authorities since she started her activism in March 2022. Similarly, a 16-year-old LGBTI activist was trailed by authorities to his house and school, which affected his mental health with panic attacks, insomnia and other stress brought on by the continuous surveillance.

In some cases, authorities misused official powers under the Child Protection Act to wrongly prevent children from taking part in protests. Anna, a Bangkok-based student activist who advocates for educational reforms, said she and her friends were physically dragged out of a restaurant by police and officials from the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, the main agency in charge of child protection, because authorities feared they were going to stage a protest at Democracy Monument as members of the royal family were due to travel past the area.

University students in Bangkok raise signs displaying a folk tale to argue that those who don’t think arresting others for their political views matters until they face the same and there is no one to protect them. Photo: Chayanit Itthipongmaetee / Coconuts Bangkok

Amnesty International also documented authorities putting pressure on parents to discourage or prevent children from participating in protests. This provoked family tensions which, in two cases documented by Amnesty International, resulted in domestic violence against child protesters.

“When my family found out about my involvement in the protest movement, we started arguing a lot,” said Satapat, who took part in pro-democracy protests in 2020 as a 17-year-old high school student in the southern city of Pattani. “Then my parents started using physical violence and pressuring me by confiscating my daily allowance and mobile phone. I had to run away from home and went to live with my friend.”

“In addition to charges, some child protesters risk facing the added penalty of being disowned or abused by their own parents, due to the pressure put on them by authorities,” Amnesty International’s Chanatip said.

Hostile environment

Amnesty International has closely assessed safety conditions at protests since 2020. These concerns heightened in 2021 after increased police crackdowns and escalating violence at protest locations.

Three young protesters, aged 14, 15, and 16 at the time, were shot with firearms – allegedly by members of the public – outside Din Daeng Police Station in Bangkok on Aug. 16, 2021.

Thai cops arrest child, 12, who rode bike to see protest: rights group

One of them, 15-year-old Warit Somnoi, was shot in the neck, fell into a months-long coma, and then died from his injuries. Following the death, police repeatedly failed to provide evidence after many requests from the public prosecutor, causing a long delay in the investigation. The public prosecutor eventually indicted a member of the public with murder but no trial has yet taken place.

Amnesty International also spoke to a human rights lawyer who has represented several clients under the age of 18. The lawyer described ill-treatment by police officers, including the use of restraining tools and beatings during arrests and rubber bullets during protest crackdowns.

Teen shot in head at Bangkok police station dies after two months in coma

Authorities reportedly used cable ties to restrain a 12-year-old protester during a police crackdown on an anti-government protest near Bangkok’s Din Daeng

Protesters on Tuesday raise a mat to protect themselves from chemical water cannons shot by riot police on Samsen Road. Photo: Coconuts

Intersection on July 13, 2021. Another protester named Sainam, who was 17 at the time, said he was shot with rubber bullets at a protest in Bangkok.

“After I got shot, I tried to run away, but riot control police approached me from the front and the back. They grabbed me and made me fall down. Then I recalled they kicked me and used something hard – like a baton or gun – to hit me. They searched me all over my body, tied me up with cable ties and continued kicking me,” he said, adding that he only got to see a doctor the following morning upon release.

Amnesty International is calling for the Thai government to drop all criminal proceedings against peaceful child protesters; end all forms of intimidation and surveillance; and repeal or amend laws used to curb children’s right to protest to ensure they are in line with international human rights laws and standards.

“Whether entering university or applying for jobs, many child protesters are just embarking on the next phase of their lives. Our message to Thai authorities is simple: Stop holding them back and allow them to exercise their rights freely,” Chanatip said.


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