CCSA proposes to extend state of emergency without banning protests

The Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) has proposed to extend the State of Emergency for yet another month, even though there has not been a case of local transmission of Covid-19 in the past two months, but will no longer ban public gatherings.

A sign on the metal fence in front of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre says "activities are prohibited according to the 2005 Emergency Decree." It had been placed there in anticipation of a commemoration event on the 6th anniversary of the 2014 military coup. (Source: Museum of the Commonners)

CCSA spokesperson Taweesin Visanuyothin said that the CCSA, led by prime minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, approved the proposal of the National Security Council (NSA) to extend the State of Emergency until the end of August. The extension still has to be proposed to and approved by the cabinet in its meeting next week.

NSA Secretary-General Gen Somsak Rungsita said that the Emergency Decree is “the only tool that guarantees economic measures can be balanced against public health concerns” and therefore must extended.

Gen Somsak also said that public assemblies will no longer be banned during the State of Emergency to show that the sole intention behind using the Decree is to control the spread of Covid-19. However, he said that demonstrators will still have to follow other public assembly laws.

Since the Thai government declared a state of emergency on 3 April 2020 in order to control the spread of Covid-19, the authorities have used the Decree to restrict freedom of expression. Several activists have been arrested and charged for violation of the Decree, including Anurak Jeantawanich, Tossapon Serirak, and members of the Student Union of Thailand holding a demonstration to call for justice for missing activist in exile Wanchalearm Satsaksit. Others have faced intimidation from the authorities, such as community rights activist Sunthorn Duangnarong.

The government’s past decisions to extend the state of emergency has been criticized by several human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and ARTICLE 19, as unjustified and a violation of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

Section 17 of the Decree also grants state officials impunity from “civil, criminal, or disciplinary liabilities” while performing their duties.

Meanwhile, Taweesin said that the extension is necessary for controlling travel in and out of the country, tracking down people for quarantine, implementing “surveillance of suspicious persons,” and preventing outbreaks of the virus, as well as being “an important tool in our preparation to transition into the New Normal.”

Taweesin also said that during the next phrase of Covid-19 measures, some foreigners will be allowed to enter the country, including foreign business representatives and trade fair exhibitors, workers from Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia; foreign film crews; and medical and wellness tourists. All of these groups must still undergo a 14-day quarantine period. 

Thailand has not found any local case of Covid-19 transmission outside of state quarantine facilities for almost two months. 7207 people in Rayong also tested negative for the virus after an infected Egyptian pilot was allowed to leave quarantine and visit public places in early July, causing concerns of a second wave of infection and outrage among the public.