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Human Rights Watch report documents government crackdown on 2010 Red Shirt protests

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - Bangkok, May 3, 2011 - No government official has been charged with a crime related to the political violence that wracked Thailand in April and May 2010, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. The government should undertake an impartial and transparent investigation and hold those among government security forces and protesters accountable for criminal offenses, Human Rights Watch said.

"In plain view government forces shot protesters and armed militants shot soldiers, but no one has been held responsible," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Those who were killed and wounded deserve better than this. The government should ensure that all those who committed violence and abuses, on both sides, are investigated and prosecuted."

The 139-page report, "Descent into Chaos: Thailand's 2010 Red Shirt Protests and the Government Crackdown," provides the most detailed account yet of violence and human rights abuses by both sides during and after massive protests in Bangkok and other parts of Thailand in 2010. The report is based on 94 interviews with victims, witnesses, protesters, academics, journalists, lawyers, human rights defenders, parliament members, government officials, security personnel, police, and those who directly took part in various stages of the violence from both the government and the protester sides. It documents deadly attacks by government security forces on protesters in key incidents. It also details abuses by armed elements, known as "Black Shirts," who are associated with the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), known as the "Red Shirts". The report also explains the background to the political crisis that led to the protests and continues to the present.

The high death toll and injuries resulted in part from excessive and unnecessary lethal force on the part of security forces, Human Rights Watch said. At Phan Fa Bridge, some soldiers with M16 and TAR21 assault rifles fired live ammunition at protesters; others fired rubber bullets from shotguns directly at protesters, causing serious injury. To disperse the main protest at Ratchaprasong, the army deployed snipers to shoot those who breached "no-go" zones between the UDD protesters and army barricades or who threw rocks and other objects toward soldiers. At times, soldiers also shot into crowds of protesters.

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On May 19, the Thai government mobilized troops from regular and Special Forces units, with support from armored personnel carriers, to break down the UDD barricades around the Ratchaprasong camp. Some soldiers fired live ammunition at unarmed protesters, medic volunteers, and journalists behind the barricades. Human Rights Watch found that soldiers fatally shot at least four people, including a medic volunteer treating the wounded, in or near Bangkok's Pathum Wanaram temple, where thousands of protesters sought refuge after their leaders surrendered to the authorities.

Several protest leaders and many UDD rank-and-file members have been charged with serious criminal offenses and are awaiting prosecution, but government security forces implicated in abuses continue to enjoy impunity. The failure to hold powerful individuals across the political spectrum accountable for abuses has yet to be addressed in any meaningful way, sending the message to those with grievances that government forces are above the law, Human Rights Watch said.

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Between April 23 and 29, groups of armed UDD security guards searched Chulalongkorn Hospital every night, claiming hospital officials had sheltered soldiers and pro-government groups. The hospital relocated patients and temporarily shut down most services. Some UDD leaders and protesters reacted aggressively toward the media, which they accused of criticizing the protests or siding with the government.

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The report documents government censorship and use of criminal charges to undermine media freedom and freedom of expression. Using sweeping powers of the emergency decree, the government shut down more than 1,000 websites, a satellite television station, online television channels, publications, and more than 40 community radio stations, most of which were considered to be closely aligned with the protesters. Even after the state of emergency was lifted in December, the government has continued to use the Computer Crimes Act and the charge of lese majeste (insulting the monarchy) to enforce online censorship and persecute dissidents connected with the UDD.

"The government undermines its claims to be rights-respecting when it engages in such widespread censorship of political views," Adams said. "The rolling restrictions on free expression seriously obstruct prospects for the restoration of human rights and democracy in Thailand."

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Click here to read the full statement
Click here for the report "Descent into Chaos: Thailand's 2010 Red Shirt Protests and the Government Crackdown"

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