Student activists sue PM to revoke ban on gathering

Student activists Panusaya Sithijirawattanakul and Seksit Yaemsanguansak filed a lawsuit with the Civil Court on Friday, 29 October, against the Prime Minister and the military commander-in-chief to repeal emergency decree order 15 on the grounds that the ban on public gatherings unlawfully limits people’s rights and freedoms.

Seksit and Panusaya at the Civil Court (Picture from the Human Right Lawyers Alliance)

According to the Human Right Lawyers Alliance, which is providing legal assistance to the activists, the lawsuit filed against Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha and military commander-in-chief Gen Chalermpol Srisawat requests that the court revoke the ban and compel the defendants to prohibit the obstruction of public gatherings by officials under their command, who should told instead to put people’s freedom and safety first while performing their duties. 

The Alliance said that the ban has been used to press charges against those who participated in recent protests. Panusaya herself is facing four counts of violating of the emergency decree for participating in protests between February 2021 – 2 July 2021.

Two other plaintiffs in the lawsuit, student activist Benja Apan, who was previously arrested on a royal defamation charge and is currently in detention, and singer Kuljira Thongkong, are also accused of violating the decree by participating in protests.

The Alliance contends that the ban, which was ostensibly imposed to prohibit unnecessary gatherings that risk the spread of disease during the pandemic, has been used instead to limit freedom of expression and assembly. 

They also argue that it is similar to existing laws and is likely to cause misunderstandings among members of the public and law enforcement officials, who are unsure which order is currently in effect.

According to the Alliance, the ban is an unnecessary limitation of people’s rights and freedom, as the Communicable Diseases Act already gives officials the authority to prohibit activities which risk the spread of disease. They also note that, during the protests, the authorities have not been following official protocol for overseeing public gatherings, using the ban as an excuse to block public roads with shipping containers, buses, train cars, and even oil tankers, excessive measures that hinder freedom of movement.

Panusaya added that while the Emergency Decree has been repeatedly used to end pro-democracy protests, pro-establishment groups have been allowed to hold their gatherings without interference from the authorities. She noted that although pro-democracy protesters have always been peaceful, their protests have been blocked by means such as razor wire and shipping containers, which are not listed as part of the legal protocol.

“The country is reopening in three days. Why are you still prohibiting us from gathering? If you reopen the country, there will be gatherings all over the country. People will come out to live their lives normally, so we think that there is no reason to continue banning gatherings,” Panusaya said.

The activists asked the court to hold an emergency session to impose a temporary injunction suspending the ban ahead of the protest this Sunday, 31 October, at the Ratchaprasong Intersection.

The Alliance reported that the court held an emergency inquiry on Friday, 29 October, but only one witness and lawyer were allowed to enter the room at a time and outsiders were prohibited from observing, ostensibly to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

The Alliance noted that in other cases, observers were permitted in the courtroom and that it was only in this case that the court denied people the right to observe a hearing. They added that as the case was political and in the public interest, the court should allow observers to sit in, and that not doing so might raise questions about the transparency of the judicial process.

After a 5-hour wait, the Civil Court dismissed the temporary injunction request on the ground that the 31 October protest still risk spreading disease and the order is still needed to prevent the spread of Covid-19

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