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Thailand: Hundreds of children beaten, intimidated and surveilled by authorities for protesting – new report

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Nearly 300 children have faced criminal charges with some at risk of years in prison after being accused of sedition or insulting the monarchy

Surveillance, rubber bullets and cable ties used to crackdown on children protesting

‘Stop holding them back and allow them to exercise their rights freely’- Chanatip Tatiyakaroonwong

Thai authorities have arrested, prosecuted, surveilled and intimidated child protesters for taking part in unprecedented mass demonstrations, Amnesty International said today, as it called for charges to be dropped and an end to harassment discouraging children from joining protests.

Amnesty’s 49-page report - We are Reclaiming Our Future - is based on interviews with 30 child protesters and activists from across the country who took part in large-scale demonstrations between 2020 and 2022.  

Compared to previous waves of protest in Thailand, an overwhelming number of participants were secondary school students under 18, who demanded education, political, economic and social reforms to what they viewed as a paternalistic and rigidly conservative establishment. LGBTI and Indigenous children, and children from other minoritised groups, also played a major role.

To date, nearly 300 under-18s have faced criminal charges, with some at risk of years in prison after being accused of sedition or insulting the monarchy - the first time that lèse majesté cases were known to have been brought against children in Thailand. The majority were accused of violating rules around mass public gatherings set out in a pandemic-related Emergency Decree that has since been lifted.  

Chanatip Tatiyakaroonwong, Amnesty International’s Thailand Researcher, said:

“Children with their whole lives ahead of them now face severe repercussions merely for participating in peaceful protests.

"Thailand has a legal obligation to guarantee children’s right to freedom of peaceful assembly, but instead, exercising that right has come at a steep cost for protesters, who are potentially facing decades behind bars.

“Some child protesters risk facing the added penalty of being disowned or abused by their parents, due to the authorities pressurising them.

“Our message to Thai authorities is simple: Stop holding them back and allow them to exercise their rights freely.”

Harmful tactics

Amnesty documented a variety of tactics used to suppress the right to protest including routine monitoring or surveilling pro-democracy child protesters, directly intimidating children from minoritised groups for taking part in public assemblies, and asking unnecessary and invasive questions during background checks, such as whether the individual had relationships with someone of the same sex.

Chompoo*, a Bangkok-based 13-year-old child protester, told Amnesty that she has been followed around by authorities since she started her activism in March 2022. Similarly, a 16-year-old LGBTI activist was followed by the authorities to his house and school, affecting his mental health causing him to suffer panic attacks, insomnia and other stress as a result of the continuous surveillance.

In some cases, authorities misused official powers under the Child Protection Act to wrongly prevent children from taking part in protests. Anna, a Bangkok-based student activist who advocates for educational reforms, said she and her friends were physically dragged out of a restaurant by police and officials from the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, the main agency in charge of child protection, because the authorities feared they were going to stage a protest at the Democracy Monument as members of the royal family were due to travel past the area.

Amnesty also documented cases where the authorities put pressure on parents to discourage or prevent children from participating in protests. This caused family tensions which, in two cases, resulted in domestic violence against child protesters.

Satapat, who took part in pro-democracy protests in the southern city of Pattani in 2020 when they were 17, said:

“When my family found out about my involvement in the protest movement, we started arguing a lot. My parents started using physical violence and pressuring me by confiscating my daily allowance and mobile phone. I had to run away from home and went to live with my friend.”

Hostile environment

Amnesty has closely assessed safety conditions at protests since 2020 and saw a rise in police crackdowns and violence at protests in 2021, increasing concerns over safety.  

Three young protesters, aged 14, 15, and 16 at the time, were shot – allegedly by members of the public – outside Din Daeng Police Station in Bangkok on 16 August 2021.  

One of them, 15-year-old Warit Somnoi, was shot in the neck, fell into a months-long coma, and then died from his injuries. Following his death, police repeatedly failed to provide evidence after many requests from the public prosecutor, causing a long delay in the investigation. The public prosecutor eventually charged a member of the public with murder but there still has not been a trial.  

Amnesty also spoke to a human rights lawyer who has represented several children under 18 who described police officers using.

Authorities reportedly used cable ties to restrain a 12-year-old protester during a police crackdown on an anti-government protest near Bangkok’s Din Daeng Intersection on 13 July 2021.

Another protester named Sainam, who was 17 at the time, said he was shot with rubber bullets at a protest in Bangkok.

“After I got shot, I tried to run away, but riot control police approached me from the front and the back, they grabbed me and made me fall down. Then they kicked me and used something hard – like a baton or gun – to hit me. They searched me all over, tied me up with cable ties and continued kicking me,” he said, adding that he only got to see a doctor the following morning upon release.

Amnesty is calling for the Thai government to drop all criminal proceedings against peaceful child protesters, end all forms of intimidation and surveillance, and repeal or amend laws used to curb children’s right to protest to ensure they are in line with international human rights laws and standards.

Take action

Among the children targeted with criminal proceedings, the authorities have sentenced LGBTI campaigner Thanakorn ‘Petch’ Phiraban, are investigating Chan Tonnamphet, an indigenous land rights activists, and are trying ‘Sand’, a youth activist, for protesting when they were under 18 years old. Take action here to ask the Thai authorities to drop all criminal proceedings against them, quash convictions, and end the harassment and intimidation of children simply for peacefully exercising their human rights.


*Full names in the report have been withheld for security reasons

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