Harmful chemicals used on protesters at last year’s rallies – Amnesty International

Photo via Amnesty International Thailand

Harmful chemicals were shot from high-pressure water cannons to break up crowds of protests at Bangkok’s pro-democracy rallies in late-2020, according to Amnesty International Thailand. The organisation’s recent report “My face burned as if on fire,” outlines what they call “excessive and unlawful use of force against largely peaceful protesters.”

At the time police strenuously denied the use of any irritants added to the water firing out of the water cannons.

Numerous protesters who were injured by the police forces were interviewed by the organisation. Some say they inhaled fumes from tear gas canisters. Some were hit by water cannons. Others shot in close range by rubber bullets. The organisation says some suffered from severe burns and nasal bleeding.

Eyewitnesses and victims also describe many incidents of dangerous policing, from the aiming of high-pressure water cannons at people’s heads to the reckless firing of rubber bullets into the crowd.

Those who spoke to Amnesty International reported experiencing coughing fits and other breathing difficulties, skin and eye irritation and redness, chemical burns, burning sensations in the nose, lungs and skin, and nasal blood discharge. A volunteer protest guard described being shot at by water cannons and inhaling tear gas fired by riot police for several hours on 17 November 2020: “I felt fatigued. Drenched all over my body. Rankled, pained. I was so battered; I was numb with pain. We could not go on.”

The youth-led pro-democracy movement took hold last year, with protests growing from crowds of hundreds to thousands, all demanding monarchy and government reform. Activists raised questions and statements considered unprecedented and even illegal in Thailand.

Many who have spoken in opposition to the royal institution have faced charges under Section 112 of the Criminal Code, known as the lèse majesté, which carries an up to 15 year prison sentence for insulting the Thai Monarchy.

Police used water cannons laced with chemical irritants at major protests in October and November of last year, which Amnesty Thailand says were “illegal, unnecessary and disproportionate, in violation of international human rights law and standards.”

Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director of Research, Emerlynne Gil, says that as the protests in Bangkok grew, Thai authorities failed to deescalate the situation.

“Bystanders and protesters, most of them not engaged in any unlawful or violent behaviour, suffered traumatic violence at the hands of the police: people were beaten, hit by rubber bullets and tear-gassed, all because they dared to gather peacefully and express themselves.”

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Tanutam Thawan

Local Thai journalist speaking fluent Thai and English. Tanutam studied in Khon Kaen before attending Bangkok’s Chulalongkhorn University.

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