Expressions of dissent blocked under tight security as Prayut returns

On his fifth day back as Prime Minister after a 37-day hiatus, Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha conducted a visit to Khon Kaen and Ubon Ratchathani, where expressions of dissent as minor as raising three-finger salute drew a fierce response from his security detail.

Protesters at Khon Kaen attempt to push past the police force to enter the temple to approach Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha.

On the morning of 4 October, Gen Prayut went to Muang Khon Kaen District to assess the flood situation in the area. A large number of uniformed and plainclothes police were reportedly deployed around Wat Sri Sa-ard temple, where the PM was expected to appear. Soldiers were reportedly on site as well.

It was Gen Prayut’s first visit to the Northeast after reclaiming his position as Prime Minister (PM). Last Friday, the Constitutional Court ruled that he has yet to serve 8 years in office, the maximum tenure allowed by the 2017 Constitution.

Learning of the visit, a group of protesters converged on the temple. Some sought to approach the PM inside the temple but were blocked from doing so by security officers.

In a speech, Panupong Srithananuwat, an activist from Dao Din group, stated that the general turned PM lacked legitimacy from the beginning and called on him to leave office.

Initially denied access to the temple, the protesters eventually entered to find that the PM had already left. Police then blocked them from leaving the temple on the grounds that their protest was in violation of the Constitution.

Inside the temple, the activists were photographed by a plainclothes police officer, who refused to identify himself. He agreed to delete the photos when protesters complained that he was violating the recently-enforced Personal Data Protection Act.

A police takes a photo of protesters.

A small clash ensued as the officer tried to escape from the protesters' encirclement. One of the activists said he was punched in the struggle.

A similar development unfolded in the afternoon at Ubon Ratchathani Province where the PM was scheduled to assess the flood situation and visit a flood relief shelter.

According to a report in Matichon, more than a thousand police officers were deployed to provide for the PM’s safety. Critics of the PM were also blocked from approaching him. This included Saowanee Alexander, a lecturer from Ubol Ratchathani University, and a group of the University’s students. 

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights reported that some of the people who were there to protest was blocked by the police. They were threatened to be charged if any expression is to be made. 

Nutthawut, a citizen journalist livestreaming at Ubon Ratchathani was reportedly forced to delete his broadcast. Police told him that they would arrest him if he declined. Another person at the scene was charged and taken away by the police.

A police approaches one citizen journalist during Prayut's visit to Ubon Ratchathani.

“I was there streaming live to Facebook. Officials came up to … block us. We couldn’t go anywhere, not even to buy food and drinks … As the PM’s car passed by, we were blocked by 10-20 police and their vans.”

“When the PM walked by… one of my juniors raised a 3-finger salute and shouted “PM get out.”  At that point they took my friend Aof away and pushed another young protester to the ground. I was live streaming it but an officer used an umbrella to block my view.” Nutthawut said.

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