Despite protests, the House of Representatives is expected to go ahead with passing the Public Assembly Bill during its third and last reading on 27 April - a move that will curb people's constitutional right to assembly and give courts the power to decide whether a protest is legal or not. The Nation's Pravit Rojanaphruk speaks to Anusorn Unno, a leading opponent of the bill and lecturer of anthropology at Thammasat University, about what he's so unhappy about. Here are some excerpts:
Why are you so against the bill?
Not counting the right to freedom of assembly that is enshrined in the Constitution, from a sociological point of view, this bill is aimed at boosting the state's legitimacy in controlling citizens. Instead of citing national security to support a law, this bill claims to defend citizens' rights. Apparently, the public cannot take care of itself and must be protected. The bill, under the guise of protecting the public from protesters, hides and deflects conflicts that exist between the state and the people who are protesting.
In reality, what the bill seeks to protect is not the public or public spaces, but government offices that are at the heart of the state's power. This bill is a conservative piece of legislation that is disguising itself as a modern law. It constitutes an attempt by the state to extend exceptionalism [wherein some laws grant the state more power and impunity than normal]. In abnormal situations, we already have the emergency decree as well as the Internal Security Act.
In the US, there are no such laws. We're giving the state carte blanche and enabling it to combine emergency and non-emergency situations. The bill also gives officers impunity in launching crackdowns.
What should people do if the bill is passed?
I think we have to campaign to get it abolished or amended, but it will most definitely be passed. In the worst-case scenario, we must recognise that no power is absolute, that there exist cracks where resistance can be mounted. For example, the Red Sunday movement, which has been evading the emergency decree [since May 19, 2010]. The decree can't do anything. We must be creative and improvise more, making a legal interpretation more complicated. But poor people [who wish to protest about their income or other issues] have more limitations placed on them because this bill makes even symbolic protests difficult. This explains why such groups as Friends of the People, which support the grass-roots level, rose to oppose the bill.
Many people who were affected by the yellow- and red-shirt protests say they cannot allow such disruptions to occur any longer.
I would like to convince them that there are existing laws that are meant to handle protests. We can also learn from other countries as to how crowds can be controlled democratically. The bill should in fact facilitate protests instead of suppressing them. In France and Germany, the law only requires protesters to inform the authorities, not seek permission as in the case of this bill.
The [Thai] government is increasingly starting to use the judiciary as a political tool and is dragging the courts into political conflicts.
Though there have been sporadic movements from both colours to oppose the bill, why have we not seen either the red or the yellow shirts coming out in full strength to oppose it?
I think the red-shirt Democratic Alliance against Dictatorship would have no problems opposing it, but they're busy with other matters. As for the yellow-shirt People's Alliance for Democracy, some of its members have come out to oppose it, but the movement itself doesn't believe in the rule of law or the judicial system. They believe in something else, so they are ignoring this.