(Bangkok) – Thai police unnecessarily used water cannon against peaceful pro-democracy protesters in Bangkok on October 16, 2020, in violation of international human rights standards, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities acted under state of emergency powers declared the previous day, which allows the security forces to commit abuses with impunity.
At about 6:30 p.m., police forcibly dispersed a demonstration organized by the pro-democracy People’s Movement in which thousands of people, including many students, took part. Human Rights Watch observed the police using water cannon laced with blue dye and an apparent teargas chemical to break up the protest in Bangkok’s Pathumwan shopping district. The police then charged in with batons and shields to disperse the protesters. Scores were arrested. The government has not yet provided details about people in police custody. After the crackdown, 12 protest leaders are being sought on arrest warrants.
“By sending in the police to violently disperse peaceful protesters, Thailand’s government is embarking on a wider crackdown to end the students’ protests,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Invoking the Emergency Decree gives the police the green light to commit rights abuses with impunity.”
Under the 2020 United Nations guidance on less-lethal weapons in law enforcement, “Water cannon should only be used in situations of serious public disorder where there is a significant likelihood of loss of life, serious injury or the widespread destruction of property.” In addition, water cannon should “not target a jet of water at an individual or group of persons at short range owing to the risk of causing permanent blindness or secondary injuries if persons are propelled energetically by the water jet.”
Police arrested a Prachatai journalist, Kitti Pantapak, as he broadcast the police’s dispersal operation on Facebook Live. Kitti identified himself as a reporter and wore a press armband issued by the Thai Journalists Association. He faces possible charges under the Emergency Decree, which prohibits publishing and broadcasting information that threatens national security.
International news reporting on Thailand, such as by the BBC World Service, has been blocked on the country’s main cable TV network, True Visions. Thai authorities also pressed satellite service providers to block the broadcast of Voice TV, a station widely known for its critical coverage of the government.
The Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situation empowers Thai authorities to impose broad censorship in violation of the right to free expression and media freedom. On October 16, the police issued several warnings against news reports and social media commentary critical of the monarchy, the government, and political situation in the country. Livestreaming pro-democracy protests was declared illegal, as well as posting selfies at a protest site.
The decree also…