Friday, December 27, 2013

Taking a Look back: Red Shirt Protest in Bangkok 2009 - 2010 (Part 1)

The articles are based on my own personal experience photographing the Red shirt protest, conflict and its aftermath in Bangkok between the year 2009 - 2010. The first part presented here covers the event in April of 2009, Bangkok, Thailand.

My first experience covering political event in my hometown of Bangkok involved a protest by the Red shirt when they moved in to the city. It was in the middle of April in 2009, just before the Songkran festival. At that moment I already had an idea who they were and what their ideology were supposed to be; namely they support Thaksin Shinawatra as the rightful leader of the country, and they were against the Democrat government. I was going in to the protest with an open mind to listen to what the Red shirt had to say, what did they stand for, what they believed in and why they were against the government. I went in expecting an exercise in democratic process with the people speaking out against the wrongdoing of the government, social injustice or a concrete demand for change.


The Red shirt protest gathered at Victory Monument


The message I got could be summed up in a few very simple points.
"We (the Red shirt) are right."
"They (the government) are wrong."
"We are a peaceful protest."
"We will win."

Thaksin Shinawatra; their rightful leader & idol.

"Thaksin...Come back!"; the Red shirt's top priority
After spending sometime among the mob and listening to their rhetoric, it was very clear to me that what I thought the Red shirt were and essentially what everybody had been saying about them was true. It was all about their leader Thaksin Shinawatra. There never was any real substance to their accusation of the government being dictatorial or undemocratic. Their issue with the government was that it was not the government they wanted.

That was early in the afternoon.

Later in the afternoon was a different story. 

As I moved away from the Victory Monument, the Red shirt also started to move as well. We happened to be going in the same general direction, towards the historic part of Bangkok. The mob as I saw them at that moment was a whole different animal from the one just a few hours earlier. There are only a few photographs that I can show here because the mob was starting to get hostile...at least towards a photographer like me. As they were marching to their destination, I started to notice weapons being carried by many members of the mob. Many of the weapons were improvised like clubs and shields made from whatever stuffs they could get their hands on. Another piece in their arsenal was a curious, strangely-colored liquid in plastic bottle, Molotov cocktail??? I could not take photographs of the mob carrying their weapons because if they saw me taking a photograph, other members would came up to me demanding that I stopped and deleted any photos I had. That was the first time the Red shirt mob stopped me from photographing, but it wouldn't be the last. I remembered vividly being scared for my life.  

The mob manning the road-block and re-directing traffic

Foreign press covering the event

"Peaceful Protester"
In the evening nothing eventful took place. But the real violence started the following morning. As far as I'm concerned, this is how the Red shirt protest will operate from then on; organize a demonstration, publicly announce that they are peaceful and finally commit random act of violence and set something on fire before they leave.