'Danger was coming': lone protester who defied Thai police

  • World
  • Tuesday, 27 Oct 2020

Anurak Jeantawanich, 52, pushes against police officers during an anti-government protest in Bangkok, Thailand, October 16, 2020. "I could sense danger coming," said Jeantawanich. "I looked each of them in the eye and told them not to come any closer, that there were a lot of young students and girls here." REUTERS/Jorge Silva /File Photo

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Head down, arms spread, one man pushes with all his strength against rows of Thai riot police behind their shields.

The Reuters image of the night of Oct. 16, when police tried to use force to disperse protesters, has become one of the most widely published of months of demonstrations to call for the ousting of the government and reforms to the powerful monarchy.

For the man in the picture, Anurak Jeantawanich, 52, it was the moment when he tried to stop them.

"I could sense danger coming," he told Reuters.

Having witnessed a bloody crackdown on "red shirt" anti-establishment protests a decade ago, he had more experience than many of the youth protesters as he crouched beside them facing riot police and water cannon behind a barricade of colourful umbrellas.

Anurak heard police counting down. On three, he jumped out to face them, he said.

"I looked each of them in the eye and told them not to come any closer, that there were a lot of young students and girls," Anurak said.

Seconds later, police started firing what they have described as water containing chemicals that cause skin irritation, which went over his head and directly at protesters behind him.

"I rushed to push back against them," he said. "There was no fear in my heart. If my daughter was behind me, so were the sons and daughters of other people."

Police pushed. Anurak fell back. He described being yanked off his feet and "crowd-surfed like in concerts" by rows of police, before being cuffed with cable-ties and put into a police wagon.

From inside the vehicle, he said he heard water cannon being fired and shouts from protesters, some of whom scattered before the protest was halted for the day.

A Thai police spokesman said they had only used internationally accepted methods for countering the protest.

The images of that night stirred greater anger and brought much bigger protests until Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha last weekend ordered a stop to emergency measures he had imposed on Oct. 15.

Anurak, an activist who sells political T-shirts and other items, was among those arrested for violating the emergency measures. He spent a night at a regional police unit before a court dismissed the police petition for his detention and he was freed.

He would not hesitate to do the same again, he said.

"If I had to risk my life to protect the young people and for our victory, I'd do it. It would be worth it," he said.

(Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Giles Elgood)

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