Civil society rights groups criticise Thai govt move to declare ’emergency’ decree to thwart pro-democracy protests

Civil society rights groups on Thursday (15 October) criticised the Thailand government’s move to introduce a new emergency decree that effectively allows the authorities to thwart pro-democracy protests and other forms of peaceful assembly and expression in the country.

Under the decree, gatherings of five persons or more are prohibited. Authorities are also given under the order the power to arrest and detain people without charge for up to 30 days for reasons as vague as “supporting” or “concealing information” about the protests.

The decree also bans the publication of news and information “which may instigate fear amongst the people” or that “affect national security or peace and order”.

The recent pro-democracy protests in Thailand, primarily led by the youth, focus on pushing for the dissolution of Parliament, the enactment of a new Constitution and reforms to the monarchy.

Tens of thousands gathered at the Democracy Monument on 14 October to commemorate the student uprising in 1973 that briefly ended the decade-long junta rule in Thailand.

Protesters raised a three-finger salute as a Thai royal motorcade passed through. The salute, adopted from a dystopian sci-fi movie, is a symbol of defiance in Thailand’s democracy movement.

Many individuals have since faced illegal assembly charges, including those under an earlier COVID-19 emergency decree that authorities have routinely extended, despite the number of confirmed coronavirus cases being minimal nationwide, according to ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).

“What’s happening now in Thailand is an outright blatant abuse of emergency powers to crack down on fundamental freedoms and shield those in power from any form of legitimate criticisms,” said APHR chairman Charles Santiago in a statement today.

The Malaysian Member of Parliament said that the “thousands” of protestors who “have taken to the streets in Bangkok, and nationwide, have done so peacefully, and are fully entitled to raise concerns about the current state of democracy in Thailand”.

Mr Santiago also called on “fellow parliamentarians in Thailand to immediately exercise their oversight powers, by providing prompt and independent review of the necessity for the use of emergency powers and ensuring that people’s fundamental rights are protected”.

APHR urged the Thai authorities to disclose the names of the individuals who have been arrested “and ensure that they are given access to lawyers, their families and medical assistance if injured”.

The timing of the announcement of a ‘severe’ emergency in Thailand — in the wee hours of the morning — is a means of “centralising the Thai government’s power and preventing the legitimate expression of dissent”, according to the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA).

In a statement today, FORUM-ASIA said that declaring a state of ’emergency’ is aimed at deterring “thousands of protestors who descended into central Bangkok from exercising their right to fundamental freedoms while instilling fear”.

“The state of emergency, arbitrary arrests and crowd dispersals have no grounding in international human rights law, which respects the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly,” said the rights group, citing such rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“Under international human rights standards, emergency decrees should be legal, necessary, proportionate and time-bound. Thailand’s state of ‘severe’ emergency fails to meet these principles. It instead reinforces a system where dissent is continuously stifled,” added FORUM-ASIA.

FORUM-ASIA also observed that the ’emergency’ state “comes after months of intimidation against protesters which have included the widespread use of judicial harassment against activists and human rights defenders”.

“Authorities have arbitrarily arrested activists and filed charges against them under the country’s slew of repressive laws that carry hefty sentences. In recent months, more than 60 protest leaders have faced charges for organising and/or participating in protests,” said the group.

FORUM-ASIA noted that police arrested 21 protesters yesterday, including pro-democracy leader Jatupat ‘Pai Dao Din’ Boonpattararaksa. Police were also recorded manhandling protesters in crowds, according to the group.

The group stressed that it is the Thai government’s duty to ensure that protestors’ “demands for widening civic space and push for fundamental freedoms” are met, as it is obliged to do so based on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

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