Thai PM Revokes Order Restricting Media Amid Violent Pro-Democracy Protests

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Bangkok
2021-08-10
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Thai PM Revokes Order Restricting Media Amid Violent Pro-Democracy Protests A pro-democracy demonstrator gestures during a protest in Bangkok, Aug. 10, 2021.
Reuters

Thailand’s prime minister on Tuesday walked back an order to crack down on news and social media posts, as tensions on Bangkok’s streets escalated through violent clashes between hundreds of pro-democracy protesters and police.

The revocation of the decree by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha came after a civil court, in a rare move last Friday, blocked it based on a petition by 12 Thai media portals. The decree had come into force July 30.

“Because the civil court filed the injunction until further notice … the prime minister issued another order to revoke the decree,” according to an announcement published in the Royal Gazette on Tuesday. The revocation went into effect the previous day.

Norasate Nanongtoom, a lawyer who represents the media portals, praised the consequence of the injunction.

“The goal was the revocation of the order. This is a triumph of the freedom of expression,” Norasate told Benar News on Tuesday.

In its injunction, the court noted that the government decree would deprive the plaintiffs of their rights and freedoms as protected under the constitution.

Prayuth, a former army chief and junta leader, signed the order, he had said, to prevent people from presenting news or information that would make the public fearful or confused, and undermining the state’s security and public morality during the coronavirus pandemic.

The civil court will now likely dismiss the case because Prayuth’s order no longer exists, Norsate said. The PM became the defendant during the injunction hearing, but the court had not set a date for a hearing because of a spike in COVID-19 infections.

Govt ‘only sees interests of elite’

Meanwhile, hundreds of pro-democracy activists in Bangkok demonstrated throughout the day on motorcycles and in cars to protest what they said was the government’s mishandling of the viral outbreak that has left the country short of COVID-vaccines during a time of unparalleled new infections.

A group of Thammasat University students coordinated the protests, which involved honking horns and calling for Prayuth’s resignation.

The activists also defaced the logo on a Sino-Thai company building associated with Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul.

“The government lacks the ability to manage the country, and only sees the interests of the elite,” Benja Apan, a student activist, said in a statement that she read out during the protest, Reuters news agency reported.

“If the situation remains like this then we can expect the country to face an unsurvivable disaster.”

210810-TH-protest-1000.jpg
A motorcyclist passes a police detention truck that was put on fire during an anti-government protest in Bangkok, Aug. 7, 2021. [AP]

The protests – carried out in defiance of a pandemic-related ban on public gatherings – turned violent on Tuesday as riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the demonstrators. Police said six of their colleagues were injured and two police booths were set on fire.

Violence by protesters was also reported during a major anti-government demonstration in Bangkok over the weekend. At least one police truck was reportedly set on fire during protests on Saturday.

Before Tuesday’s protest, police had warned demonstrators not to violate coronavirus restrictions.

In addition, a Thai civil court on the same day dismissed a petition from human rights lawyers urging a ban on the use of rubber bullets by police.

Six demonstrators were arrested and 100 motorcycles were confiscated, said Pol. Maj. Gen. Piya Tawichai, a deputy commander for the Metropolitan Police Bureau.

“The protesters used violence and weapons such rocks, firework and giant fire crackers against the police,” Piya told a press conference.

“Initially, six policemen were injured and hospitalized. One of the six policeman was shot at with a homemade gun in his left thigh.”

BenarNews could not verify the shooting.

Prayuth has been under siege since pro-democracy protests began in July 2020. Demonstrators have called on the PM to step down, the constitution to be updated and the monarchy to be reformed.

In the past weeks, they have also protested against the COVID-19 vaccine policy, and many different parties have joined this year’s demonstrations on the issue of the pandemic, said Sunai Phasuk, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch. 

“The government has not seemed to be open to compromise, especially when the protests are tied to the monarchy. The solution would be for the government to listen to the people’s demands,” Sunai told BenarNews.

These include parliamentary mechanisms such as amending the constitution and the royal defamation law, and taking action to ensure a fair distribution of vaccines, Sunai said.

“These are things the government should consider. But what is happening is that those who disagree with the government are suppressed,” he said.

Protest leaders jailed

Since the weekend, meanwhile, at least 11 anti-government protest leaders have been detained, according to lawyers and the police.

They included four key anti-government leaders who were previously released on bail for allegedly defaming the monarch, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, an NGO, confirmed Tuesday.

Parit “Penguin” Chaiwarak, Panupong “Mike” Jadnok, Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa and Arnon Nampa were sent back to jail on Monday after being summoned for recent alleged offenses at protest rallies.

Parit, a key leader of the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration, had his previous bail in a royal defamation case revoked because he allegedly broke a condition of his bail to not take part in protests, the lawyers group said.

Arnon was detained on Monday for alleged royal defamation committed on Aug. 3, the lawyers group said, adding that the police would seek additional jail time for him from a court on Wednesday.

Krisadang Nutcharus, a lawyer from Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, alleged the police intentionally detained Arnon to prevent him from joining Tuesday’s protests.

“Police has the authority to detain him for 48 hours but there is no reason to keep him under custody that long because he had finished finger printing and so on,” Krisadang told reporters.

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