BANGKOK— In an effort to clarify the state’s stance on public demonstrations, Thailand’s next police chief has drawn a distinction between political protests and protests advocating for greater fairness and rights.
"We have to differentiate between protests that are political and protests that are about people's rights," said Pol.Gen. Somyot Pumpanmuang, who has been selected to take the post as commander of the Royal Thai Police on 1 October.
Demonstrators who demand improvements to their general welfare will not be considered political protesters, Pol.Gen. Somyot said, drawing a distinction that is bound to confound many.
Thailand’s military rulers placed a ban on public demonstrations soon after declaring martial law on 20 May, yet the order has not been applied evenly; while many anti-coup activists have been arrested and sent to face trials in martial court, protesters rallying around other causes have avoided persecution.
"Activists should clearly study the laws, especially students who may have staged protests because they want to have fun or because they were invited by their friends to show off their different ideas," Pol.Gen. Somyot said. "Sometimes, an action may not violate certain law, but it may end violating another law.”
His comment came a day after the military junta's National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) forced a group of lawyers and activists to cancel their panel discussion on the status of human rights in post-coup Thailand.
The panel discussion, titled "Access to Justice in Thailand: Currently Unavailable," was scheduled to take place at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand. A group of police officers entered the club, which has long been considered a haven for free speech, and stopped the panelists from speaking to crowds of reporters.
The military has also detained almost 30 activists in the past month for organising marches in support of overhauling Thailand’s energy sector.