Andrew Johnson

Documentary photographer/videographer
   
Shutdown Bangkok
Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Nationality: Canadian
Biography: Andrew Christian Johnson (b.1987) is an independent documentary photographer based between Canada and Brazil. After studying political science and print journalism he found his passion for visual storytelling. His work focusses on narratives of... read on
Private Story
Shutdown Bangkok
Copyright andrew christian johnson 2021
Date of Work 02/15/14 - 03/02/14
Updated 04/13/21
Thailand is no stranger to political turmoil having seen a total of twelve coups since 1930. Supporters of rival political factions have often taken to the streets resulting in violent clashes. One of the main forces has been the populist Pheu Thai (For Thais) party, known as ‘Red Shirts’, who draw the bulk of their support among the poor and rural northerners. Their rivals, the ‘Yellow Shirts', have been supporters of the Democrat Party and popular among mostly middle-class and city-dwelling southerners.

Thaksin Shinawatra, a wealthy media tycoon and founder of the Pheu Thai movement was ousted in a coup in 2006 after facing accusations of corruption. Following his self-imposed exile, a political crisis developed which saw violent clashes in the streets of major cities, specifically the capital Bangkok. Hundreds of Thais were killed in violent demonstrations that rocked the country in as governments abruptly changed hands several times. Both sides have been accused by independent observers of inciting violence and carrying out targeted killings against their rivals. Both the police and military have been accused of taking sides and acting independently to crack down on their political rivals.

The PDRC (People's Democratic Reform Committee) was a monarchist, ultra-conservative wing of the 2013 movement to depose the Shinawatra family. Most their group’s support comes from urban and middle-class Thais, particularly those in the south of the country and the Bangkok elite. Many in the PDRC see the Shinawatras as the epitome of the corruption that has plagued Thai politics for decades. What's more, they see populism as a threat to the monarchy that is revered as a holy institution and a central pillar of Thai society and culture.

These images were taken over a short period in February of 2014 during the demonstrations which led to being embedded with a unit of the PDRC security forces stationed in Lumpini Park in the centre of Bangkok for a week. The period of this visit had seen some of the worst incidents of violence since the political crisis of 2011. The PDRC had been making strides to disrupt the government while the ‘Red Shirts’ were busy mobilizing their own counter demonstrations. More than 100,000 Shinawatra supporters would converge on Bangkok in early 2014. Tensions were high and clashes were not uncommon between the more hard line cells within both movements.

One night in late February more than 20 explosions rocked Lumpini Park, site of a huge anti-government protest camp. For almost three consecutive hours starting just after midnight the camp was attacked with explosives and gunfire. Three PDRC guards were shot and one was severely injured by a grenade.

The Royal Thai Military, sworn protectors of the King, finally swept into power following a bloodless coup in May, 2014 after the Constitutional Court found Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's sister, guilty of corruption. The military quickly declared martial law and began dismantling any protest camps that remained. Members of the PDRC and their allies largely welcomed the military’s move, and disbanded their movement.

Shinawattra’s supporters offered little resistance, as the army now had complete control over the country’s affairs, instituting a city-wide curfew in Bangkok and draconian measures aimed at censoring dissent from the media and the public. The question remains whether the junta will restore democracy and address the divisions caused by years of political strife. General elections in Thailand are expected to be held in late 2016 or early 2017. Civil rights, including the right to vote, have been suspended following the coup in May 2014.

*As of May, 2018, democracy has not returned to Thailand. The beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej is dead, and the Kingdom has passed to an unpopular Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.*

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