A brief summary of crackdown on Red Shirt demonstration in Bangkok during 13-15 May 2010 (As of 16 May)
1. In brief, since 13 May, the government has launched the so called “Operation Ratchaprasong”. Basically, all utilities feeding the area (electricity, tap water and even mobile phone signal have already been cut or jammed). Checkpoints have been set up in the perimeter around the area for about five square kilometers to exclusively block any group/individual from entering the protesting site and even to prevent the transportation of food and water inside the rally site. Rubber and live rounds have been fired around the protesting site in three or four major neighborhoods up to the area of Victory monument, Din Daeng, Klongtoey and Silom. Close to 200 casualties including 24 deaths, all of them civilians including one medic officer (shot while wearing his medic uniform), one staff from private rescue team, and several Thai journalists and one Canadian journalist (from France24), have been reported and confirmed by the Erawan Center (part of the Ministry of Public Health and other concerned agencies).
2. Since 13 May, the firing by security officials has been made “indiscriminately” (at least as explained by CNN’s Dan River, please check out the video on cnn.com) against anyone, particularly the red shirts protesters. As a result, even staff from a medic team has been shot dead the night of 14 May while he was tending to some injured persons around Victory Monument’s area. This indiscriminate shootings are contradictory to the “rule of engagement” as spelled out and time and again reiterated by the government, particularly, Mr. Panitan Wattanayakorn and the spokesperson of CRES (Center for Resolution of Emergency Situation) that “only in cases purported for defending life of official or when the protesters are found to be using weapons, then live rounds will be fired”. Before, they have been claiming that live rounds are fired only “into the sky” to scare people away. But many pictures and the high number of casualties as a result of gun wounds testify differently to their claim. Yesterday’s afternoon, they even declared 500 meters parameter on Ratchaparop (Pratunam) just adjacent to the protesting site a “live firing zone” meaning anyone found to trespass the area will be immediately shot by live bullets (see Bangkok Post report attached). Later in the evening, they have removed such a banner, perhaps due to criticisms in media. Still not many people were brave enough to get around the area.
3. All in all, special laws, particularly, the Emergency Decree on Government Administration in States of Emergency B.E. 2548 (2005) has been invoked coupled with the normal Criminal Procedure Code. Almost 60 people have been arrested invoking the Emergency Decree. About 40 of them have been convicted with the maximum penalties (not exceeding two years). Yesterday, a magistrate court in Bangkok convicted 26 protesters rounded up during the 13-14 May clashes in Bangkok to one year in jail with no suspension (reduced to six months due to guilty plea) (please see Bangkok Post report). Previously, at least four people known to be related to the Red Shirts have been arrested and still held in custody for breaches of the Emergency Decree. No visits, no bail, no access to lawyers have been allowed.
A week ago, the Red Shirts’ legal team and their MPs have submitted a motion to the Constitutional Court asking the Court to review if the Decree is still applicable, since it was issued by the virtue of 1997 Constitution which has been revoked since the coup in 2006. Unfortunately, the Court has made no ruling yet, not even to issue any injunction. Before, the Red Shirts lawyers have also asked the Civil Court to issue an injunction to stop the government from using lethal weapons to suppress the demonstration. The Court ruled that it is in no position to “interfere with the exercise of administrative power” and the situation warrants such operation by the government.
4. Brutal suppression methods have been employed by the security officials. Apart from firing live rounds against the protesters and anyone found to stumble in and around the area they declared off-limit, snipers have reportedly been installed in high-rises around the different areas of the protesting site1 . It has been reported that several of the Red Shirts have been shot in their upper parts of the body by “bullets with high velocity shot from above”. Seh Daeng or Major General Khattiya Sawatdiphon, a renegade military general appearing to support the militant elements within the Red Shirts, has been shot the evening of 13 May and still suffers severe headshot wounds and stays unconscious as result of the sniping. Extensive account of the shooting can be found in international media, since he was shot while giving interviews to international press (NY Times, VOA, Wall Street Journal, etc.). In fact, his bail should have been revoked by the Court or the police before this shooting, since he had come out to instigate the protesters to reject the PM’s “roadmap” and to take to militant approaches. (please see Peace hopes lost in a sea of confusion, Bangkok Post, http://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/37392/peace-hopes-lost-in-a-s...).
5. The government has claimed live rounds have to be used as there are “around 500 terrorists hiding themselves among the protesters”. But so far, no solid evidence has been established to prove that the Red Shirts have used any war weapons or have them in possession, apart from the use of firework, bamboo spikes, rocks, Molotov Cocktails, and other improvised tools. The ratio of casualties is quite telling on this issue. So far, only four officials have died (all of them on 10 April), whereas the number of dead persons among the Red Shirts has increased to 21 (10 April) + 24 = 45 now. Since Operation Ratchaprasong has been launched, none of the security officials have been shot or found to suffer any injury. But the government claimed that during the evening of 13 May, at the standoff in Pratunam (Ratchaparop), about four M79 grenades were shot into the military squads stationed there. But there has been no report of casualties among the officials so far. And during the night of 14 May, a dozen of protesters and passersby have been shot dead by snipers. All of the dead bodies have been found unarmed. A few were women, too.
The violence seems to have escalated since the protesters have been trying to break through the barricades set up by security officials. There are about 20,000 protesters left at the Ratchaprasong intersection, mostly those from the province. And the other protesters, mostly from within Bangkok, have tried to join with them though they have constantly been held back by fierce and indiscriminate shooting from the military. Now, the protesters decided to lay siege to three or three areas around the rally site (Din Daeng, Klong Toey, Victory Monument) and the standoff with the officials continue as of now.
1 An Australian tourist handed over a copy of video clip of two men appearing like snipers on Charn Isara Tower opposite from Chulalongkorn Hospital. The tourist gave the copy to reporters at 4:10 am.The feed showed two men staying together with one man using a telescope to check movements down below. The tourist said he saw red-shirt guards pointing at the building so he looked up and saw the two men and shot the clip. (The Nation, 16 May 2010)