Protests in Thailand: government announces emergency decree to crack down on pro-democracy protests

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The decree, which went into effect in the capital Bangkok at 4 a.m. local time, was enforced after thousands of protesters marched from the city’s Democracy Monument and passed a police barricade to camp outside the offices of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Wednesday evening. The demonstrators demanded the resignation of Prayut and the reform of the monarchy.

“As it turned out that several groups invited, incited and committed illegal gatherings,” the decree said. “There were activities that affected the peace and order of the public. ”

The government also cited protesters obstructing a royal procession as the reason for the emergency decree. Video of the scene showed police pushing back protesters who shouted and gave the provoking three-finger salute from “Hunger Games” movies as a car carrying the youngest son of Queen Suthida and King Maha Vajiralongkorn, Prince Dipangkorn , passed slowly.

“Therefore, there is sufficient reason to believe that acts of violence have been committed. And it affected the stability, security, property and personnel of the government. It is no longer a peaceful assembly as should be guaranteed by the constitution, ”the decree added. .

In addition to limiting groups to five people, the emergency decree includes a nationwide ban on publishing and disseminating news and information – including online – that arouses fear among the public. Affected officers will now be allowed to apply the new traffic rules and close certain premises to the public.Police also arrested several prominent activists early Thursday after Wednesday’s anti-government protests, according to Thai Lawyers For Human Rights.

Student leader and activist Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, 21, was searched by plainclothes police at a hotel near the protest site and then arrested in connection with a speech she gave in August, the group said. ‘lawyers.

Human rights lawyer and protest leader Arnon Nampa was arrested Thursday morning following a speech he gave on Wednesday in the northern city of Chiang Mai.

And Panupong Jadnok was also arrested Thursday morning, although it is not known why he was detained. Panupong and Arnon were arrested once before this year in connection with the protests.

On August 10, Panusaya took to a stage and publicly presented a 10-point list of demands for reform to the monarchy. Panusaya is the spokesperson for the student union group United Front of Thammasat and Manifestation, and their demands include the revocation of laws against defamation of the monarchy, a new constitution, the abolition of royal offices, the ousting of the government led by the army and the dissolution of the king’s royal guards.

Student protests that have continued across Thailand since July have intensified in recent weeks. Protesters, who now include a large cross section of society in their ranks, are calling for a new constitution, the dissolution of parliament and the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut, as well as an end to the intimidation of critics of the government.

Pro-democracy protesters were seen pushing back Thai police during an anti-government protest on October 14, 2020 in Bangkok, Thailand.

But an increasingly central demand is to reform the monarchy to reduce the powers of King Vajiralongkorn and ensure a true constitutional monarch in a democratic system.

It’s the biggest challenge for the ruling establishment in decades, with young people publicly breaking entrenched taboos by speaking openly about the royal family in public. Thailand has some of the strictest lese majesty laws in the world, and criticizing the king, queen, or alleged heir can carry a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

The king, who spends much of his time abroad, returned to Thailand this week for a host of royal functions, including to mark Remembrance Day for his father, the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

King Vajiralongkorn faced protesters for the first time on Tuesday. After a protest outside the Prime Minister’s offices was interrupted by police with 21 protesters arrested, the King’s convoy passed protesters who shouted “free our friends” and waved three fingers.

Authorities stepped up security the next morning, deploying around 15,000 police to control crowds. As the protesters gathered, they were greeted by lines of royalist groups who had turned out to be dressed in yellow – the color of the monarchy.

Protesters seen walking towards Government House during an anti-government protest in Bangkok.

“I’m here to show my respect to the king,” said Nid, 65, a private business owner from Bangkok. Among the protesters, he said “they should go home and focus on their studies. Our country has three pillars: nation, religion and monarchy. They should know that. ”

There were questions as to whether the protesters could once again rally the large crowds seen at previous rallies, but as Wednesday progressed thousands joined in the march – hundreds spending the night outside from the government palace.

On Thursday morning, the protest group Free Youth called on people to defy the ban on gatherings and join an afternoon protest in Bangkok, saying in a statement on Facebook that “high school and college students, workers and people in general gathered peacefully and did not start any violence. ”

“But it’s clear now that the government intentionally used the monarchy as a tool to get rid of those who claim their brighter future, a future with equality and more disparity,” the group said.

While the student-led movement has suffered a setback with the arrest of its main leaders, it “is likely to maintain its momentum,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, political scientist and director of the Institute for International and Security Studies from Chulalongkorn University.

“Popular grievances are so broad and deep that traditional Thai institutions, such as the military, monarchy and justice, have hindered reforms and changes that can allow Thailand to move forward,” he said. he declared.

He added that Wednesday’s scenes were “a late and pent-up confrontation that has been kept under cover during the last reign. It is the transformation of Thailand to arrive in the 21st century. “

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