High-profile attack prompts question: Is violence legitimate in Thai politics?

A little-known activist and self-declared red shirt earned media headlines – as well as praise from some government critics – by assaulting Thailand’s “complainer-in-chief”, Srisuwan Janya, last week.


The incident also triggered a heated debate on social media over whether it was justified to physically attack someone for their “annoying habit” of lodging frequent complaints of a political nature.


That was the excuse given by Veerawich Rungruangsiriphol after he violently assaulted Srisuwan on October 18 at the Technology Crime Suppression Division.


The man whom Thai media have nicknamed “complainer-in-chief” was giving an interview to reporters before submitting his petition asking police to charge stand-up comedian Udom “Nose” Taepanich for allegedly inciting street protests during his “Deaw 13” show.


Broadcast on YouTube


Veerawich, aka “Uncle Sak”, broadcast the attack on Srisuwan live via his YouTube channel, which has over 33,000 subscribers.


The livestream broadcast, lasting 7 hours and 39 minutes, shows Veerawich standing with his arms crossed just a few meters away as Srisuwan talks to the media.


He then confronts Srisuwan before throwing punches and kicks at his victim. The video was apparently shot by the attacker’s female partner as she mingled with reporters.


It had logged over 164,000 views as of press time.


The video then shows Veerawich fleeing the scene on a motorcycle, before talking to his supporters on the phone at home.


He was arrested the next day after arriving at Channel 3 television station to appear on a live talk show.


Supporters also transferred donations to him as the attack was being livestreamed. Veerawich dismissed media reports that he collected as much as 6.5 million baht, saying he would reveal the true total later.


He explained after the attack that he wanted to teach Srisuwan a lesson for going too far with his complaints. “I am 62 and I don’t care what’s going to happen,” he said of the possible punishment he faces. “In a democracy, everyone has to accept differing views.”


‘Distorted logic’


Many of Veerawich’s supporters justified his violent actions, arguing that Srisuwan deserved to be attacked for abusing his constitutional right by continuously filing complaints against those who offend him.


Others, though, said this was “distorted logic” as violence cannot solve political disputes and should not be glorified.


Perhaps surprisingly, former national police chief Sereepisuth Temeeyaves took sides with the attacker, saying punching should not be considered as violence.


“Instead, it’s teaching someone a lesson. Violence involves the use of a knife, stick or gun,” said Sereepisuth, who now leads the opposition Seri Ruam Thai Party.


The former top cop was himself targeted last year by Srisuwan, who accused him of encroaching on the Khwae Noi River from his nearby land. Srisuwan petitioned the National Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate Sereepisuth, who promptly hit back with a libel lawsuit seeking 10 million baht in damages.


Some TV channels and media personalities have been accused of condoning violence after appearing to lend legitimacy to the attack on Srisuwan. One TV poll asked viewers if they “feel for” Srisuwan or if he “deserved it”.


But among those who condemned the assault – and political violence in general – were prominent government critics. Leading student protester Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul tweeted: “There should be no reason to legitimize violence of any degree. This applies to Khun Srisuwan’s case.”


Independent scholar Sirote Klampaiboon tweeted: “I disagree with violence in Srisuwan’s case. Srisuwan’s frequent petitions are annoying … but annoyance is no excuse to assault someone.”


Previous strike


This was not Veerawich’s first attack on someone who apparently opposes his cause. In October last year, he slapped Seksakol “Isan Rambo” Atthawong, who was then vice minister for the PM’s Office, outside Government House. Seksakol responded by filing a police complaint against him.


Veerawich says he comes from the Northeast and joined the red-shirt movement soon after its birth in 2006 when Thaksin Shinawatra’s government was overthrown in a military coup. The red shirts movement is mainly composed of Thaksin supporters.


Veerawich said the failure of Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government to control COVID-19 had caused his textile business to collapse at an estimated loss of 30 million baht.


He later took part in anti-government protests organized by the Ratsadon group demanding Prayut’s resignation. As political protest was banned under the COVID-19 emergency decree, Veerawich was indicted in 13 court cases, mostly for violating the decree. However, all charges against him were eventually dismissed by the court.


Source: Thai Public Broadcasting Service