BANGKOK — At least 16 people were taken into custody after riot police broke up an impromptu prawn market set up by pro-democracy activists on Thursday.
The stunt was marked as a “New Year’s Eve surprise” by the campaigners, who said they want to help seafood businesses that bore the brunt of the new coronavirus outbreak. But police declared the gathering illegal and moved in to make arrests.
BREAKING: Apparently selling seafood is illegal now? Police move in to arrest pro-democracy activists while they were selling shrimp at Sanam Luang earlier today. The stall was set up by We Volunteer, a group of protester volunteer guards. #Thailand #KE pic.twitter.com/tn5IbVuVfz
— Khaosod English (@KhaosodEnglish) December 31, 2020
Activist leader Piyarat “Toto” Chongthep is one of the 16 people detained by the police. Reports say they will be charged with violating the Emergency Decree’s ban on gatherings, breaching public health regulations, and using loudspeakers without permission.
Demonstrators initially gathered on Sanam Luang with their shrimp stall on Thursday morning, but police soon arrived and dispersed them from the field. Scuffles also broke out as police made arrests. One woman said she would file an assault complaint against the police for beating her during the operation.
The protesters later moved to Ratchadamnoen Avenue, where they were selling the shrimps at the price of 359 baht per kilogram to pedestrians. By afternoon, riot police armed with shields moved in and made more arrests.
Citing threats of the coronavirus, the government on Tuesday bans all gatherings unless they receive special exemptions from the authorities. Health officials report over 180 new coronavirus cases on Thursday as the second wave of the outbreak continued to spread across the country.
Thailand has confirmed a total of 6,884 coronavirus cases and 61 deaths.
The virus resurgence, which has been traced to a shrimp market in Samut Sakhon province, also plunged the seafood industry into a slump. A seafood vendor also killed himself last week after suffering dire financial losses.