Thai authorities urged to investigate attacks on activists

Photos of a bloodied government critic and video of the attack circulated online spark public outrage in Thailand.

    Sirawith Seritiwat, an anti-coup activist, seen here being detained by police while demonstrating in Bangkok [File: Reuters]
    Sirawith Seritiwat, an anti-coup activist, seen here being detained by police while demonstrating in Bangkok [File: Reuters]

    Rights groups have urged Thai authorities to investigate attacks on pro-democracy activists after one was beaten and left unconscious on a pavement in the latest violent incident.

    Amnesty International submitted open letters to Thailand's defence minister and its police commissioner on Wednesday asking them to bring to justice attackers who have targeted three vocal pro-democracy activists on multiple occasions since the military seized power in a coup in 2014.

    The ruling junta actively cracked down on dissent and political discussions while it enacted new election laws that favoured its leader, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, in elections in March.

    Amnesty said the attacks against the activists "appear to fit a pattern of systemic violence timed to coincide with their efforts to draw attention to perceived election irregularities and problems relating to the formation of a new government".

    The appeal follows the latest attack last Friday on Sirawith Seritiwat, who opposes the military's role in politics. He was beaten until he was unconscious on a pavement near his home in Bangkok in broad daylight.

    Photos of a bloodied Sirawith and security camera footage of the attack that were circulated online have sparked public outrage.

    Prayuth said on Tuesday he instructed police to investigate the attack on Sirawith. "I am not his enemy," he said. Police said they are investigating.

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    'Savage attacks'

    Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the opposition Future Forward Party, condemned the attack on Sirawith. 

    "How many other times do events like this need to happen?" he wrote in a social media post.

    "How many other times do we have to tolerate seeing brave individuals who stand up for justice face savage attacks without anyone taking responsibility? Don't let it be your children's turn before you feel that this is an injustice."

    The most recent attack on Sirawith left him with a fractured eye socket and head injuries. He was previously attacked on June 3 by at least five men after he had been working on a campaign to petition members of the junta-appointed Senate not to vote for Prayuth to become prime minister.

    Other anti-military activists such as Anurak Jeantawanich and Ekachai Hongkangwan have faced physical abuse on multiple occasions by unknown assailants.

    'Increasingly aggressive'

    Anurak said he was most recently attacked in May by six to eight men, some wearing motorcycle helmets and using metal bars to hit his head, after he announced a plan to protest against the election of the pro-army speaker of the lower house of parliament.

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    Ekachai faced physical abuse on several occasions in addition to having his parked car set on fire twice this year. He was also subjected to at least four violent attacks in 2018 as he engaged in peaceful protests about official misconduct, according to Amnesty International.

    "Intimidating activists by physical abuse appears to be becoming increasingly aggressive and involving a rising number of victims," Angkhana Neelapaijit of Thailand's National Human Rights Commission said.

    "These incidents usually occur during the day in public places but authorities have never been able to apprehend the perpetrators, which leads to continued intimidation against political opponents without consideration for the law."

    SOURCE: News agencies