2002 Anti-Pipeline Protests
Police found guilty of using excessive force
Court limits state's use of power, endorses community rights: lawyerYesterday's ruling by the Supreme Administrative Court that protesters were subject to excessive force by police during an anti-pipeline demonstration in Songkhla in 2002 is expected to encourage more people to defend their rights, officials said.
The court's final ruling was the first ever in Thailand endorsing a community's right to organise a peaceful demonstration to protect their local natural resources. The victory also sets a precedent that excessive violence against demonstrators by police and state agencies will not be tolerated, a lawyer for the protesters said.
The court yesterday ruled that villagers from Songkhla's Chana district were exercising their legitimate right to organise a peaceful demonstration, as enshrined in the 1997 Constitution, when they staged a protest in Hat Yai district on December 20, 2002. The protest led to clashes with police guarding a cabinet meeting being held at the JB Hotel.
The court ordered the National Police Office to pay Bt100,000 in compensation to each of 24 anti-pipeline protesters for using excessive force against them.
"This is a victory for local people who have been fighting for their right to protect their own natural resources and land for 10 years. The court's final verdict ensures that we have rights," said villager Surada Tohlee, 60, who had filed a lawsuit with the court.
Villagers organised the demonstration in front of the JB Hotel in the hope of handing a petition to then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his Cabinet opposing the cross-border Trans Thailand-Malaysia Gas Pipeline (TTM) project. They worried that the gas pipeline project would affect the way of life of the locals, as well as the environment and the utilisation of the land.
Construction of the pipeline eventually went ahead and was completed in 2007.
At the time police moved against the protesters when some were praying and others were having their meal, Surada said.
Villagers filed lawsuits with the Administrative Court in 2003, and spent a decade fighting a legal battle with the National Police Office.
The court ruled that while trying to clear a way for Thaksin and his ministers to attend the mobile Cabinet meeting at the JB Hotel, police used excessive violence and did not follow international norms.
Environmental lawyer Surachai Trong-ngam, who represents the villagers, said the verdict set a precedent that police and state agencies could not use violence to disperse a peaceful demonstration. It also endorsed the rights of people to gather and demonstrate against state projects that could affect their way of life, the lawyer said.