On 12 January 2020, people in several Thai provinces and abroad will unite to “Run Against Dictatorship”. Thai Lawyers for Human Rights has found that event organizers in Bangkok and other provinces have faced difficulty in obtaining permission to use some locations for the event, being threatened by officials when requesting permission to stage the event. The authorities claim that Run Against Dictatorship is considered as a public assembly and a political activity. To clarify and debunk such consideration, TLHR has the following legal recommendations.
1. Run Against Dictatorship is not a public assembly
According to the Public Assembly Act 2015, to be considered as a public assembly, such an event must bear all of the following three characteristics:
1) It must be a gathering of people in a public space;
2) It must be a gathering solicited to demand, support, oppose or express an opinion on any matter utilizing a public display;
3) Other people must be able to join the assembly.
Provided that a Run Against Dictatorship event is organized following these characteristics, for example: by holding the event in a private space; by holding the event without making any demands, or without expressing support for, opposition to, or opinion on a particular subject; by organizing an activity for a specific group of people and which anyone who has not previously registered cannot attend – these are not considered as characteristics of public assembly as defined by law.
Thus, there is a clear application registration process for the Run Against Dictatorship, so the general public cannot simply join in, just as with most running events. This means it should not come under the purview of the Public Assembly Act and there is no need to comply with this law.
2. Run Against Dictatorship is a sporting event and thus does not fall under the purview of the Public Assembly Act
Run Against Dictatorship is a sporting event just like any other race or fun run with a social message, such as runs with environmental campaigns, anti-drug campaigns, campaigns against domestic violence, or other running events. None of these are subjected to the Public Assembly Act, since Article 3(3) stipulates that the Act shall not be enforced on sports gatherings. Thus, the Run Against Dictatorship itself in this sense is a sporting activity that holds the social campaign as the subject of concern, just as with other running events. Per the wording of the Act, the event, therefore, shall not be subjected under the purview of the Public Assembly Act, and authorities cannot use such allegation as a claim to force organizers of the event to give prior notification, set event conditions, or prohibit activities entirely.
3. There is no law against political activities
Since the repeal of NCPO Order No. 3/2015 Article 12, which prohibited political gatherings, there is currently no law prohibiting people from gathering or engaging in political activities. Even if, as the authorities argue, Run Against Dictatorship events amount to political activities, people still enjoy the right to organize such activities per the Constitution.
4. The law requires the organizer to “notify of the assembly”, not to “request permission” to assemble.
Run Against Dictatorship is a legitimate expression approved by the Constitution. If the organizers of the event do want to arrange it in the form of rally or public assembly, they must notify the police. The police, however, have no power to prohibit the activity.
Section 44 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand 2017 stipulates that “a person shall enjoy the liberty to assemble peacefully and without arms” and Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights stipulates that “the right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized”. Consequently, if the organizers of the Run Against Dictatorship event choose to hold it in the form of a public assembly, they can do so per the laws guaranteeing their rights and freedoms. Public officials do not have the power to prohibit such activity. They have no power to grant or disallow; the only legal requirement is that the officials be notified in advance of any public assembly.
Article 10 of the Public Assembly Act stipulates that the police must receive notification not less than 24 hours before the assembly is due to start. The police are then obliged to respond to the notifier within 24 hours of receiving notification and to send a summary of essential information concerning public assemblies. This has nothing to do with a request for permission; it is merely a “notification”. Officials have no legal authority to grant or disallow an assembly. Furthermore, should officials prohibit an assembly or similar activity, they will be in breach of the Constitution, the highest source of law in the country.
5. If there is no prior notification of an assembly, assembly participants are not guilty
If the Run Against Dictatorship event is staged as a public assembly without the legally required notification, only the event organizers may be found guilty. Section 28 of the Public Assembly Act imposes a fine of not more than 10,000 Baht. There is no jail sentence, however, for the cases in which TLHR has assisted, the court has ordered fines of 1,000, 2,000, and 3,000 Baht, depending on the case.
Assembly participants (not organizers) who participate in the assembly, despite the lack of notification, will not be prosecuted as per Sections 4, 10 and 28 of the Public Assembly Act 2015.
6. There is no prison sentence for running on a road and obstructing traffic
Should the course of Run Against Dictatorship be on a public road and that the activities need to use such space, the organizers must obtain permission to use the road surface from traffic officers per the Road Traffic Act 1979.
The regulations on requesting the use of a road surface issued by the Traffic Police Division require that a request be submitted no less than 15 days before the intended march or procession (see the regulations here).
However, should the police traffic officers deny permission, participants in a march or procession which obstructs traffic may receive a fine not exceeding 500 Baht, with no imprisonment per Section 148.
7. No imprisonment for unauthorized use of an amplifier
In municipal areas, the mayor is the competent official.
Outside the municipality, the District Chief or Deputy District Chief is the competent official.
In Bangkok, this means the competent authority lies with the District Office for the area in which the amplifier will be used.
The use of an amplifier without permission imposes a fine of not more than 200 Baht, without imprisonment, per Article 9 of the Advertising Control Act.
8. If you have any issues related to this event, please call Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.
If you are the organizers of the Run Against Dictatorship event or members of the general public who face any issues related to the freedom of expression or freedom of assembly, you can contact TLHR for further information or request legal advice.