The incident underscores the dangerous and disturbing position that Thailand now finds itself in, where the monarchy, long-held above the political fray, is being drawn into events, a disturbing situation for many in Thailand and fraught with many risks and unpredictable consequences. One of the accused men was later granted bail when he appeared in court.
One of the protest leaders arrested in Bangkok on Friday and charged under Section 110 for causing harm to the liberty of Queen Suthida has told reporters that he is innocent of any wrongdoing in the affair and only tried to guide the consort’s motorcade through a small group of protesters safely on Wednesday afternoon at the height of the anti-government rally near Government House which has since sparked a crackdown. Mr Bunkueanun Paothong and his co-accused Ekachai Hongkangwan are facing up to life imprisonment if convicted of the offence in court, one of the most serious on the statute books in Thailand.
Protests continued at three different locations in Bangkok on Saturday as anti-government rallies also broke out in 17 different provinces around the country.
Police shut down much of the BTS transit system in Thailand’s capital city and warned protesters that the new state of serious emergency, now in force, means that they were in breach of the law and subject to prosecution. Police on loudspeakers also warned protesters that they were being photographed and may face future arrest.
Dozens of protesters including key leaders now held in custody, some are repeat offenders
The crackdown ordered on Thursday and confirmed by the Thai cabinet on Friday morning has, according to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights organisation, seen at least 72 people arrested with a large proportion of protest leaders being denied bail.
Many of them are repeat offenders who have been charged multiple times since the protests broke out on July 18th last.
Thai authorities, however, have issued assurances that all those detained are being treated in line with international human rights standards including regular medical check-ups.
Two protesters facing life imprisonment if convicted of impeding the Queen’s liberty on Wednesday
Two protestors, among those arrested since protest activity surged last Tuesday in Bangkok, are facing the most severe charge. They are Bunkueanun Paothong also known as ‘Francis’ and Ekachai Hongkangwan.
Both men are facing the prospect of life imprisonment or a term of sixteen to twenty years in prison after a court in Bangkok, on Thursday evening, ordered their arrest under Section 110 of Thailand’s Criminal Code for causing harm to the Queen’s liberty following a melee on Wednesday afternoon as Her Majesty Queen Suthida’s motorcade made its way through protesters near Government House in Bangkok.
Videos do show protesters heckling the motorcade and giving the signature three-fingered salute
It is not quite clear what the substance of the case against the two men is but it is understood that some protesters, on Wednesday, failed to show respect and saluted the car as it drove by with the signature three-fingered salute of this protest movement linked with a popular TV series from over a decade ago.
There is video footage of the incident from various angles and at different points which do show some of the crowd heckling and shouting at the royal motorcade.
The videos show a phalanx of police moving through the crowd and making way for the Queen’s beige yellow limousine, also used in recent days by His Majesty the King, as most protesters looked on in surprise, some of them saluting.
The Queen was accompanied by the youngest son of the Thai King. It is understood that Queen Suthida was on her way to a religious ceremony on a busy day for both the King and his consort.
Government referred to the incident when it announced the latest crackdown on Thursday
On Thursday morning, announcing the new state of severe emergency, the incident in which the motorcade was engulfed by protesters was referred to by the government and given as a reason for the crackdown which has ensued.
On Friday, police from Lat Phrao Police Station arrested 43-year-old Mr Ekachai, one of the accused, at Imperial Lat Phrao store. He told police officers that he was on his way to the police station to acknowledge the charges against him issued on Thursday night.
His co-accused Mr Bunkueanun had already surrendered to police at the same station. On Saturday, it was reported that he had been granted bail of ฿200,000 when he appeared before the court on the charge.
Protester charged under Section 110 denies committing any wrongful act on Wednesday
Mr Bunkueanun acknowledged to the press that he was at the centre of the incident last Wednesday.
He explained, on Friday, that on Wednesday afternoon last, he was directing a small body of protesters who had arrived at Government House ahead of the main rally when they encountered the royal limousine accompanied by motorbike outriders, a large number of red cars and a phalanx of police runners.
‘We were not notified by the police of the upcoming royal motorcade in which we had no way of knowing because they were not informing us,’ he told reporters.
Taken by surprise, he used a megaphone to ask protesters to clear the way for the motorcade
He indicated that the protesters were surprised to see the royal motorcade within their midst. He also said that he tried to take action to allow the Queen’s cavalcade to drive through with ease.
‘We were not notified by the police of the upcoming royal motorcade in which we had no way of knowing because they were not informing us,’ he explained after his arrest. ‘Once we knew that there was a motorcade of the Queen and the heir presumptive to the throne, I tried to break away from the line and use my megaphone to have everyone move away from the police barriers so the motorcade can pass through easily.’
Prime Minister is not for quitting
On Friday, following cabinet endorsement of the emergency action taken by the government, the Thai Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha, vowed that he would not resign.
‘I won’t quit.’ he said bluntly.
His resignation, along with a new constitution and the end to what political activists call the harassment of government opponents are key demands of the current protest leadership.
Dangerous and very disturbing situation to see the monarchy being embroiled in politics
Since August, the protesters have also outlined plans to reform the Thai monarchy to bring it within constitutional provisions and democratic control.
This highly controversial demand has created division and tensions in Thai society, embroiling the monarchy in politics, something that has been long avoided in Thailand and is completely unacceptable to both conservative Thais and the military.
The current hiatus and unrest leaves many Thai people uneasy and disturbed as the institution has long been seen as the stability or anchor point of the nation.
Before her arrest on Thursday morning, when she was taken away on a wheelchair, key student leader Panusaya ‘Rung’ Sithijirawattanakul had warned that the student leadership may move to strengthen their calls in relation to the monarchy if the government continues to use force to crack down on the student-led demonstrations calling for political change.