It was around 9 pm at the intersection of Din Daeng and Soi Mitmaitri 2 when police rolled out the cavalry. Although it was still an hour before curfew, security forces were showing no tolerance for dissent.
Suddenly, six trucks packed with riot police carrying non lethal weapons raced towards a group of angry young men wearing baggy flannel shirts and motorcycle helmets.
The men, reportedly from the anti-government group Thalugaz, were mostly armed with cherry bombs and their bare hands. But over an hour or so, they had occasionally aimed small fireworks towards a cluster of police that had garrisoned an overpass bridge.
One of the protesters, wielding a red flag, taunted the officers.
“Fuck the police! You do nothing for us!”
Only moments before the police swept in, another protester raised two middle fingers to the air in defiance.
But the police clampdown was unsuccessful. The young men disappeared into the cavernous refuge of Flat Din Daeng just metres behind them. Once the police retook the intersection, another volley of fireworks erupted nearby, seemingly from a third floor balcony. The police were on high alert.
Within a few minutes, the scene quieted down. But what happened next caused a viral reaction online and sparked more criticism of the authorities.
Further down the street towards the high rise slums, a motorcycle’s headlights could be seen drawing closer eerily in the distance. One of the police squads on the street noticed the oncoming motorbike.
As the bike inched closer to the group of police, there was a sudden burst of at least five rapid bangs. Immediately after the rapid bursts, three women were heard screaming from the bike.
“We are on the way home, please stop, we’re going home!” the women yelled. Suddenly the motorbike slowed and then tipped over completely. One of the women was unconscious as the bike fell. Paramedics were able to revive her and sent her to the hospital, but the other two women were furious.
“How could you treat us like this? We haven’t done anything wrong,” one of them said with emotion in her voice.
More videos emerged last night of police opening fire at passing motorbikes in the area. It has led human rights groups to become even more concerned about the violence coming out of Din Daeng.
A spokesman for metropolitan police told Thai Enquirer that they did not fire upon the women that night.
“At this time we do not know who injured the women at the scene but the Thai Police exercise utmost restraint and would not fire upon civilians,” the police spokesperson said.
But according to Sunai Phasuk, Thailand researcher for Human Rights Watch, the Thai government has shown no interest in hearing out the protesters.
“The authorities seem intent on preventing street protests from gaining momentum and spreading across the country as happened last year,” Sunai told Thai Enquirer.
“While the police claim to follow international standards for crowd control, in practice they have routinely used excessive force against protesters apparently without fears of being held accountable for wrongdoing. Frontline confrontations have become more and more violent.”
It’s a view shared by Yingcheep Atchanont, manager of iLaw, whee he says there is ample evidence to indicate that police have used excessive force.
“There are many incidents where videos have clearly captured the police intentionally aiming” with lethal intent, he said.
“Since Din Deang has become the clashing point, the authorities have not given any clear justification on why such tactics are used,” he said.
“Regardless of who is responsible for the incident last night, it is clear that the police have not adhered to the international standard, whether it be tear gas, baton, or rubber bullet.”
He added that UN guidelines clearly state that rubber bullets should only be used against perpetrators of violence, and that they should not be fired indiscriminately. He noted that rubber bullets should only be used as a last resort to protect the lives of innocent civilians.
Koreeyor Manuchae, chairwoman of the Human Rights Lawyers Association, told Thai Enquirer that rubber bullets should never be used in this context.
“As a human rights lawyer, we oppose the use of rubber bullets in any case that applies to the protest because we believe if disruption happens police must resort to solve the situation at the same scale,” Koreeyor said. “They should not jump to a greater level.”
She added that it’s problematic how extensive the police response has been across many fronts, mentioning indiscriminate use of force. She said chemicals used in water cannons are unsafe, and that tear gas and batons should only be used in extreme cases.
“With these small-scale protests, we do see elements of disruption. But the police response reflects the attitude of the state. They see these protests as hostile, that need to be eradicated or handled, but it’s not the way that these protesters should be treated as they are exercising their freedom of protest and assembly.”
It was unclear whether or not the women were able to return home after being questioned by police.
Thai Lawyers for Human rights told Thai Enquirer that 27 people, including five minors, were arrested last night. They will be taken to Phra Nakorn District court to be indicted as the adults confessed.
“We were only trying to get home,” one of the women told an officer at the scene.