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Thailand: Public Assembly Act at risk of infringing international human rights standards

(Bangkok, 25 March 2015) – The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) is deeply concerned by the Draft Public Assembly Act (Draft Act) regulating public gatherings, including demonstrations that require prior notification. The Draft Act, which was proposed on 26 February 2015, is expected to be passed by the military junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly and enter into force this month.

The Draft Act declares that the organisation of any public assembly in the area or perimeter within 50 meters from Parliament, Government House or a Court could be prohibited under police discretion. Any public assembly from 10 pm to 6 am requires permission from the authorities and anyone who wants to organise a public assembly that may affect the maintenance of national security, public safety, public order, public morals, public health or the convenience of people when using public property or the protection of the rights and liberties of other people – is obliged to inform the authorised body via a written application at least 24 hours in advance.

FORUM-ASIA is alarmed at the junta’s efforts to pass the Draft Act without public scrutiny nor transparent parliamentary process, which will further add to the deterioration of fundamental freedoms in Thailand.

Article 11 of the Draft Act will give the authorities full power to prohibit public assemblies and on extremely vague and arbitrary ground. As a consequence, the Draft Act could be used by the regime as a basis to infringe the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. Article 14 of the Draft Act states that a public assembly which takes place without submitting an application for prior approval or a public assembly banned by the authorised body is regarded as an unlawful assembly and risks criminal liability. In this regard, FORUM-ASIA reiterates that the right to peaceful assembly – to public gatherings and peaceful protests, is at the heart of an active civil society and that the state has obligation to facilitate, not infringe or criminalise the realisation of this basic right of the people.

In addition to criminal liability for failing to obtain prior authorisation for public assemblies, organisers face a draconcian prison sentence of upto 10 years and a hefty fine of upto 200,000 THB under Section 5 of the draft Act if they organise a demonstration that results in severe damage to the public transportation system, telecommunications, or pubilc and economic infrastructure or if they fail to comply in any other way with instructions issued by the authorised body. Of equal concern is Article 26, which gives carte blanche to the authorities to act with unfettered discretion by indicating that any action taken under the Draft Act shall not be subject to the regular Law on Administrative Procedures.

According to the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, the organiser of a demonstration should not bear any responsibility for the unlawful behaviour of others. There is concern that these provisions in the Draft Act would be in violation of accepted international human rights standards with respect to assembly and association, necessitating greater scrutiny. 

Civil and political rights have been severely restricted under the military-ruled government, with the right to freedom of assembly in particular restricted under imposition of Martial Law. It is impossible in the current political context that people will be able to voice their concerns regarding the Draft Act.

FORUM-ASIA therefore calls on the Thai government to:

• Provide a platform for public participation to discuss the law before it be approved in The National Legislative Assembly;

• Ensure adequate consultation with civil society groups;

• Amend provisions which are not in compliance

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