63 people are facing charges under the Emergency Decree for participating in anti-government demonstrations, despite the authorities’ claim that the Decree is being extended in order to control the spread of Covid-19, says Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR).
Police officers standing guard around the Democracy Monument during the mass protest on 18 July
Thailand has been under an ongoing state of emergency since the end of March 2020. On Tuesday (25 August), the cabinet again decided to extend the state of emergency, which was supposed to end on 30 April but has been repeatedly extended, to the end of September, even though there has not been a case of domestic Covid-19 transmission for almost three months.
However, despite the government’s claim that the state of emergency is necessary to control the spread of the virus, TLHR found that charges under the Emergency Decree are being used against pro-democracy activists and protesters. TLHR has documented at least 17 cases in which citizens are facing legal prosecution under the Emergency Decree for participating in a political gathering. 63 people have been accused in these cases, all of which are still in the inquiry stage except for one where a prosecution order has already been issued.
Activists who have been accused of charges under the Emergency Decree included Anurak Jeantawanich, who was arrested for organizing a commemoration event for the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Maj Gen Khattiya Sawasdipol; former MP Dr Tossaporn Serirak, who was arrested alongside Anurak for organizing an event on the 6th anniversary of the 2014 military coup; a group pf participants in a demonstration in front of the Cambodian Embassy calling for the authorities to address the disappearance of activist in exile Wanchalearm Satsaksit; and Chaiyaphum-based community rights activist Sunthorn Duangnarong, among others.
Student Union of Thailand (SUT) members Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul, Jutatip Sirikhan, Chanin Wongsri and Parit Chiwarak were also arrested and threatened with charges under the Emergency Decree after they tried to tie white ribbons at the Democracy Monument as part of a campaign to call for justice for Wanchalearm. The police ultimately charged them for violation of the Cleanliness Act and failing to carry their national identification cards.
Panusaya and Parit also received a summons on charges under the Emergency Decree for organizing the #SaveWanchalearm demonstration at the Pathumwan Skywalk on 5 June, as well as another a demonstration at the Pathumwan Skywalk on 24 June to commemorate the 88th anniversary of the 1932 Siamese Revolution.
Human rights lawyer Anon Nampa and student activist Panupong “Mike” Jadnok were also arrested for sedition and violating the Emergency Decree on 7 August, after they participated in the mass protest on 18 July, during which protesters demanded the authorities stop harassing citizens who are exercising their freedom of expression. Free Youth Movement’s leaders Tattep “Ford” Ruangprapaikitseree and Panumas “James” Singprom were also arrested on Wednesday (26 August) for their part in the same event.
TLHR also noted that many activists are facing charges in several cases and are accused of charges under other legislation alongside the Emergency Decree. TLHR also observed that, due to the ongoing student-led protests all over the country, it is likely that the number of cases will continue to increase.
When the state of emergency was extended at the end of July, a new clause was added which allowed for citizens to exercise their right to assembly. However, TLHR found that activists who participated in protests in August were still being accused of violating the Emergency Decree, such as Anon and Panupong, who were arrested earlier this week, for the third and second time respectively, for their participation in the 10 August demonstration at Thammasat University.