Large gatherings banned in Thailand under emergency decree

Police officers take position during protests in Bangkok
Security forces were deployed to disperse protesters early on Thursday

The Thai government has announced an emergency decree to stem largely peaceful protests in Bangkok, including a ban on large gatherings, in a televised announcement read out by police it said urgent measures were needed to “maintain peace and order”. Early on Thursday the police arrested three key protests leaders, the emergency measures came into effect at 04:00 local time on Thursday (21:00 GMT on Wednesday).

Later that morning the police had arrested three key protest leaders, the human rights lawyer Anon Nampa, student activist Parit Chiwarak, widely known by his nickname “Penguin” and Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul. Thai police have not yet confirmed the names of those arrested, Mr Anon, 36, was the first to openly break the taboo on discussing the monarchy by calling for reforms in August, Ms Panusaya became one of the most prominent faces of the protests since she delivered a 10-point manifesto calling for royal reform later that month, both men have been arrested previously over the student-led protest movement that has swept Bangkok since it gained momentum in July, Ms Panusaya, 21, had not been arrested until now.

The police announcement of the decree was made on state television. It said many groups of people have invited, incited and carried out unlawful public gatherings in Bangkok and that protesters had “instigated chaos and public unrest”. It also cited protesters confronting a royal motorcade on Wednesday as a reason for the decree, the protesters, who were pushed back by ranks of police, had raised the three-finger salute that has become a symbol of the student movement as the queen was driven through Bangkok. Shortly after the decree took effect, Thai riot police cleared protesters from outside the prime minister’s office, some tried to resist, using makeshift barricades, but they were pushed back, Reuters news agency reported. Hundreds of police were seen on the streets even after protesters were dispersed.

In addition to limiting gatherings to four people, the decree puts restrictions on the media, prohibiting the publication of news “that could create fear or intentionally distort information, creating misunderstanding that will affect national security or peace and order”, it also allows authorities to stop people from entering “any area they designate”, Reuters said, the growing student protests have become the greatest challenge in years to Thailand’s ruling establishment. There is a long history of political unrest in the country, but a new wave of demonstrations began in February after a court ordered a fledgling pro-democracy opposition party to dissolve.

Anti-government protesters in Bangkok, 20 September 2020
Bangkok has seen some of its biggest protests in years

The Future Forward Party (FFP) had proved wildly popular with young, first-time voters and garnered the third-largest share of parliamentary seats in the March 2019 election, which was won by the incumbent military leadership. Protests were re-energised in June when prominent pro-democracy activist Wanchalearm Satsaksit went missing in Cambodia, where he had been in exile since the 2014 military coup, his whereabouts remain unknown and protesters accuse the Thai state of orchestrating his kidnapping, something the police and government have denied.

Since July there have been regular student-led street protests, rallies in the capital over the weekend were some of the largest in years, with thousands defying authorities to gather and demand change, among the key demands being made by demonstrators are that the government headed by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former army chief who seized power in the coup, be dissolved; that the constitution be rewritten and that authorities stop harassing critics. The protesters’ calls for royal reform are particularly sensitive in Thailand, where criticism of the monarchy is punishable by long prison sentences.

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