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Police Crackdown on Demonstration Shows Signs of Authoritarianism

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The Black May massacre – a protest that evoked a military response resulting in the deaths of dozens—occurred fifteen years ago, this week. Yet last week in Surat Thani province a group of villagers, occupying an oil palm plantation demanding that the land be redistributed, suffered reprisals by heavily equipped police forces. The similarity between the events shows that the present government must make a more sustained effort to bring peace, stability and democracy to Thailand.

FORUM-ASIA is dismayed by the conduct of the Royal Thai Police towards the peaceful demonstration by some 2,000 people on Saturday, 13 May 2007, in Surat Thani province. Violence was provoked by an unnecessarily heavy presence of police officers armed with shotguns, batons, water cannons and tear gas. The police arrested 800 people and forced them to lie on the ground, shirtless with their hands tied behind their backs, echoing similar tactics used by authorities in the May 1992 uprising that occurred 15 years ago this week, and in the Tak Bai incident in October 2004 among other violent incidences that claimed civilian lives. The heavy-handed approach should have been prevented by dialogue and negotiation between all stakeholders.

The landless villagers, calling themselves the “Land Development Farming Organization for Agriculture in the South,” had gathered at the oil palm plantation since 25 April demanding that the land be allocated to the poor, claiming that the plantation had exceeded their land allocation. However, spokespersons of the Taksin Palm Company said the land was purchased legally and the company possessed the title deeds since it first operated in 1978. In an apparent attempt to quell the swelling number of people that were arriving from neighbouring areas, authorities used helicopters and tear gas to disperse the demonstrators. Reports suggest protestors used rocks and slingshots in self-defence. Although police said that handmade grenades were thrown at them, this claim remains unconfirmed.

The National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRC) called on interim Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont to investigate whether the police had used unnecessary force against the demonstrators. Several people, including women, were admitted to the nearby hospital after sustaining injuries1. Upon returning, they found that their property was damaged and stolen. The commission also suggested that the state land owned by the government forestry and treasury departments is leased at a cheap price to private companies.

The claim by the interim Prime Minister that the police only acted in accordance with their duties shows a lack of accountability and inability to facilitate conflict prevention. The heavy-handed measures are unjustified in light of the Thai government’s commitment to bring stability and create peace in the country. This recent incident in Surat Thani further belies assurances of the Thai government that it will restore democracy and the rule of law as enshrined in the constitution. The action of the police contravenes the Thai government’s commitments to human rights norms, particularly Article 21, the right to peaceful assembly and Article 22, the right to freedom of association, in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

In her report on her visit to Thailand in 2004, the UN Secretary General Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders, Hina Jilani, in reference to the gas pipeline project, warned of similar tactics by the police: “[t]he approach by the police against the people and, given the large police deployment, the security risk claimed by the authorities cannot be genuine.” She urged that arrest warrants and criminal proceedings be withdrawn and that the National Human Rights Commission mediate to resolve the issue.

FORUM-ASIA reiterates our concern over the incident and demands that:

The Royal Thai police and the Thai government must conduct an impartial investigation into the handling of the incident, punish those found responsible for the use of excessive force, withdraw arrest warrants and criminal proceedings issued against individuals that organised the demonstration and provide compensation to persons that suffered injuries and losses.

The National Human Rights Commission must take a significant role in mediating dialogue between the village groups and the plantation management to clarify the matter about the status of the land in question based on the existing constitution. The claim that the company occupied more than what was allocated to them should be investigated, especially if it infringed on people’s rights to own and use the land for their survival.


Anselmo Lee
Executive Director

For further information, please contact:

Tadzrul Tahir Hamzah, Southeast Asia Sub-region Programme Officer, email; [email protected]; phone number +66 2 8 391 8801 (ext 203).

Pokpong Lawansiri, Human Rights Defenders/Thailand-Burma Programme Officer, email; [email protected]; phone number +66 2 8 391 8801 (ext 606)


List of people injured obtained from (Thai version) – Mr. Wacharit Siriwat, 33, (received
a bullet after police shot him on his right leg), Ms. Nitaya Maratcha,
25, Mr. Madae Pengphiya, 43, Ms. Chadaporn Janparn, 28, Ms. Siriwadee
Oonsorn, 18, Mr. Noi Mardsin, Ms. Sunisa Oonsorn, 18, Ms. Rabieab
Damsong, 41, Ms. Suchin Nusri, 43, Ms. Putachart Petchrod, 40, Mr. Lek
Klomthong, 52, Mr. Sataporn Kunji, 35, Mr. Raweeroj Millap, 38,
Mr.Samyot Srithong, 38