Opposition, Rights Watchdogs Slam Protest Emergency Decree

A man raises a three-finger salute as riot police disperse protesters outside Government House on Oct. 15, 2020.
A man raises a three-finger salute as riot police disperse protesters outside Government House on Oct. 15, 2020.

BANGKOK — The government’s enactment of the State of Severe Emergency – an escalation of top of an existing emergency rule that’s been in place since March – drew criticism from opposition parties and human rights groups.

Move Forward MP Rangsiman Rome said the move by PM Prayut Chan-o-cha would make the already tense situation even worse. The new decree, which came into effect at 4am on Thursday, empowers the Prime Minister to ban any political gatherings and publication of news deemed to be a threat to national security.

The decree was also used to disperse anti-government protesters who were camping in front of Prayut’s office on Thursday morning.

“I condemn PM Prayut Chan-o-cha’s declaration of the State of Severe Emergency in Bangkok area, as well as the crackdown on protest and the arrests of protest leaders even though they announced to disperse themselves at 6am,” Rangsiman said on his Facebook.

“This is no different than a coup and it will only make things worse.”

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the leader of the Progressive Movement, also denounced the decree, saying that the reasons for it are unfounded since the rally had been generally peaceful.

He called for the government to withdraw the decree at once and allow access to legal counsel for protest leaders and who were arrested by police. Police said at least 20 people, including three protest leaders, were arrested during a police operation earlier today.

“The leaders and protesters remained tolerant of various intimidations. They rallied in peace and demanded what a democratic country should possess,” Thanathorn said. “The government has no legitimacy to disperse the crowd at night. It shows their intention to cover up the crackdown and go against the international standards.”

Thousands of demonstrators were laying siege to Government House on Wednesday, though many had left on the leaders’ request by the time police moved in to break up their rally.

Sunai Phasuk of the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said the state of emergency was a “dark day” that resulted in “scores arrested, censorship, and ban of public gathering imposed. Arrest and detention without charge permitted and no accountability for abuses.”

A police officer instructs protesters to vacate the area.
A police officer instructs protesters to vacate the area.

The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights’s chairman Charles Santiago also slammed the emergency decree as “nothing but an excuse to shut down the peaceful protests that have swept across the country in recent months.”

“The thousands that have taken to the streets in Bangkok, and nationwide, have done so peacefully,” Santiago, a Malaysian MP, said in a statement. “And are fully entitled to raise concerns about the current state of democracy in Thailand.

“Instead of introducing measures to end the protests, and arresting its leaders, Thai authorities should listen to the concerns those demonstrating are raising. They might find that their suggestions could benefit the entire country, and not merely a select few, as Thailand’s politics has done for so long.”

In its announcement of the new decree, the government accused protesters of obstructing a Royal Family motorcade and threatening public order, which could compromise efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

“As it appears that many groups of people have persuaded, incited, and called for a public gathering that is unlawful in Bangkok, using different means to bring about chaos and disturbance, as well as disruption to the royal motorcade, it is extremely necessary to introduce an urgent measure to end this situation effectively and promptly,” the announcement said.

Prior to the announcement, PM Prayut also instructed authorities to take “strict legal action” against protesters who allegedly blocked the royal convoy.

But media reports from the scene say the motorcade caught the protesters off guard as they were milling about Government House on Phitsanulok Road, as the route of the convoy was not announced in advance.

Many only realized about the royal appearance after police shoved at them to clear the way, prompting an uproar of anger from the protesters.

The State of Severe Emergency allows authorities to ban public gatherings of more than five people, censor media reports deemed to cause unrest, ban travels, and close down buildings without warrants in Bangkok metropolis.

The new special powers came on top of the Emergency Decree enacted in March, with a stated aim of coordinating government efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Three companies of soldiers were reportedly sent from Kanchanaburi to Bangkok to defend key government buildings such as Government House and the Parliament building.

Workers sweep the street in front of the Government House.
Workers sweep the street in front of the Government House.