NEW YORK (October 19, 2020) – The Thai government has reacted violently to peaceful rallies in Bangkok after introducing new legislation banning large gatherings. The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) condemns the illegal repression of these protests, which have steadily grown since July as a result of long-standing disaffection with the country’s erosion of democracy under the authoritarian military government. The protests have been accompanied by demands for constitutional changes, the resignation of the prime minister, and a reform of the monarchy.
An “emergency order” was declared in the country early on the morning of Thursday, October 15 after tens of thousands of protesters surrounded the prime minister’s office on Wednesday night. The government decree banned gatherings of five or more people, restricted media content, and gave police permission to detain protestors. In an official statement, the Thai government argued the order was necessary to “maintain peace and order” and put an end to “illegal public assemblies” in Bangkok.
The Thai government’s actions subsequently led to even larger protests in defiance of the emergency law, and now a number of the protest’s leaders have been arrested and detained. Among the more than 20 people arrested are Parit Chiwarak, better known by the nickname “Penguin,” and human rights lawyer Anon Nampa. Nampa declared that after being denied access to a lawyer and forced into a government helicopter, he now fears for his safety.
Thai pro-democracy activist and former Oslo Freedom Forum speaker Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal sent a statement to HRF regarding the protests and the government’s response. “The Thai government is trying to stop the country-wide peaceful protests in violent and illegitimate ways,” the statement read. “The world should stand with the protesters.
On Friday evening, protesters gathered for the second night in a row, but were met by riot police who used water cannons laced with a chemical irritant to disperse the protests. Protests are set to continue this coming Saturday evening, according to leaders of the movement.
“The freedom to peacefully protest is a fundamental human right, and the government of Thailand must respect that right. The use of anachronistic lèse-majesté laws to imprison dissidents and peaceful protesters is completely unacceptable in any country today,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “We urge the Thai government to release all political prisoners and begin an open dialogue with a society that is clearly fed up with a cycle of military coups, staggering levels of government corruption, and unwarranted government crackdowns.”
To learn more about the struggle for democracy in Thailand, see Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s talk at the 2020 Oslo Freedom Forum, Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal’s talk at the 2018 Oslo Freedom Forum, and Rap Against Dictatorship’s acceptance speech at the 2019 Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent ceremony.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.
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