THAILAND. Rayong. Rayong Police violently abducted two youth activists from the Eastern Youth for Democracy group on 15 July while they were holding signs criticizing the government for its handling of COVID-19. Police later released them without charge, but pressed charges after they filed a report against them.
Panupong Jadnok and Nutchanon Payakaphan, activists from Eastern Youth for Democracy, held signs during Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha’s visit to Rayong. The prime minister’s visit came after the country found an imported COVID-19 patient who visited public venues in Rayong despite the requirement to quarantine.
The signs activists held said “Don’t let your guard down, father,” and “Bullshits happen if you stay, get out, assholes.”
Violent arrests. Five minutes into the protest, around six undercover police took them into custody without telling the young men what they did wrong or identifying themselves as officers. Payakaphan live-streamed from inside the police car. He said police told them they were heading to the police station. But instead, they headed to Rayong Police’s shooting range, which was kilometers from where the prime minister was.
The activists were released there. They attempted to walk back to where the prime minister was but they were intervened by the police. The police said the two activists were “dangerous people and threats to the prime minister’s security.”
After the prime minister departed the area, Jadnok and Payakaphan filed a report against the police for false imprisonment, physical assault, abduction, and abuse of power.
Police said what Jadnok and Payakaphan did was wrong. Police later pressed three charges on the two activists: violation of the Emergency Decree, obstruction of police officers, and resisting arrest.
Thairath reported that Pol Col Kritsana Phattanacharoen, a deputy spokesperson of the Thai Police, said the arrests happened after the two activists were asked to leave the area for the prime minister’s security and COVID-19 concerns but they did not cooperate. According to the Emergency Decree, activities that might lead to transmission of the virus are not permitted, and Phattanacharoen said the two activists had obviously violated it.
Activists seek helps from the Committee on Legal Affairs, Justice and Human Rights. On 16 July, The Standard reported that Jadnok and Payakaphan filed a complaint with the parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs, Justice and Human Rights. Jadnok said they only wanted to question the prime minister about how he plans to cure Rayong citizens after 247 schools had to shut down and business owners had to face uncertainty because of the government. He thought what the police did to them was unreasonable.
Rangsiman Rome, the committee spokesperson, said the committee has always believed that freedom of expression is a basic right of the Thai people. Rome said he will make sure the committee will be fair with every side during the investigation.
Amnesty International Thailand stands with the two activists. On July 16, Piyanut Kodsan, director of Amnesty International Thailand, said the police should not shut the people’s voices when they come out to protest peacefully. She said COVID-19 must not be used as an excuse to violate people’s freedom of expression.
Amnesty International Thailand demanded Thai authorities to dismiss all the charges against Jadnok and Payakaphan. The statement said police should be protecting the rights of the people to assembly not punishing them for exercising their rights.
The public’s reactions. During the incident, a hashtag #ตำรวจระยองอุ้มประชาชน (#RayongPoliceAbductedThePeople) trended on Twitter with over a million tweets.
Free Youth Thailand and its networks will organize a protest on 18 July at Democracy Statue in Bangkok to demand that the government dissolve parliament, stop harassing the people, and draft a new constitution. They said if there is no response from the government within two weeks after the protest, they will advance their protest.
“Don’t leave this issue for our grandchildren to endlessly call for justice. Let it end in our generation,” Free Youth Thailand stated.