BANGKOK: Thailand has passed a new law forbidding unsanctioned protests, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha said, ensuring the ruling junta’s ban on rallies persists long after its military rulers leave office.
Political protests have been outlawed ever since Thailand’s generals seized power in a May 2014 coup that toppled the democratically elected administration of Yingluck Shinawatra after months of debilitating street protests.
Prayut, a former army chief-turned-prime minister, said yesterday a Bill requiring protest organisers to seek official permission at least 24 hours before holding a rally had been published in the Royal Gazette, the final stage of the legislative process.
“It covers all types of rallies,” he said. “This law will play a significant role in the next government to maintain peace and order,” he told reporters in Bangkok.
“People can still rally but they have to ask for permission and state their clear purpose.”
Colourful mass rallies, marches and occupations – including of Government House and the main airports in Bangkok – have become a key weapon in nearly a decade of political power struggles in the kingdom.
The Thai military say they want to end that cycle and ensure disruptive public protests do not return if and when they hand back power to civilians.
The Bill pushed through by the junta was passed by a vote in the kingdom’s military-stacked rubber stamp parliament before it received royal approval.
The new law also bans or restricts demonstrations outside key government buildings and transport hubs.
Prayut led the coup which toppled Yingluck’s administration following months of anti-government protests that saw demonstrators occupy Government House as well as several main traffic intersections across Bangkok.
The junta said it was forced to take power to end violence linked to those protests which left nearly 30 dead and hundreds wounded.
But critics say the protests were a carefully-choreographed pretext for a coup against a democratically elected government.
According to the text of the published law, those who hold unsanctioned protests face up to six months in jail and a 10,000 baht (RM1,115)) fine.
Those who hold protests which disrupt transport hubs and other key infrastructure could spend up to 10 years in jail and a 200,000 baht (RM22,307) fine.
Bangkok has seen several bouts of often deadly demonstrations since then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra – Yingluck’s billionaire brother – shook up politics with his pro-poor popularism in 2001.
The Shinawatras are loved by the
country’s rural and urban poor, but are loathed by a powerful middle class and royalist Bangkok elite, backed by parts of the military and judiciary.
Thailand has seen a rapid erosion of civil liberties since the junta seized power.
The military say they will oversee a return to democratic elections once the country’s constitution has been rewritten. But proposed dates for polls have been repeatedly pushed back.
Meanwhile, Thailand will likely avoid US sanctions even if it stays on the lowest tier of an annual State Department human trafficking report, Thailand’s defence minister said yesterday, days before the crucial progress report is due out.
The United States automatically downgraded Thailand, one of the oldest US treaty allies in Asia, to the lowest “Tier 3” status in its 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report after Thailand stayed on the report’s so-called Tier 2 Watch List, the second-lowest rank, for four consecutive years.
Washington said Thailand, a regional human trafficking hub, had not met the minimum standards for the elimination of the illicit trade.
A Tier 3 rating would normally trigger a range of sanctions from the United States but President Barack Obama waived the sanctions in Thailand’s case.
Thai Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said yesterday he was confident Thailand would again avoid sanctions.
“I don’t think there will be sanctions because Thailand has done things according to the rule of law, so we can rest easy,” Prawit told reporters.
“Thailand has done its most. Even if we stay on Tier 3 we have done our best,” he said.
An official at the US embassy here declined immediate comment.
Businesses in Thailand will also be hoping there will be no sanctions, as South-East Asia’s most export-dependent economy after Singapore struggles to revive its economy.
A new US report card on Thailand’s anti-trafficking efforts is due out next week. Thailand is hoping that a crackdown by Thai police on trafficking gangs in May and June this year will help sway any decision by the United States.
Some officials say that is unlikely as the report only covers the year to March 2015 so does not include the latest crackdown.
A Reuters investigation this month raised questions about the long-term effectiveness of Thailand’s crackdown on the lucrative trafficking syndicates.
The crackdown on trafficking camps along its border with Malaysia made conditions too risky for people smugglers to land their human cargo, so they simply set them adrift. Many landed in Indonesia, Malaysia and Myanmar.
In an unexpected move, the United States is upgrading Malaysia from the lowest tier on its list of worst human trafficking centres to the so-called “Tier 2 Watch list”, a status that could smooth the way for an ambitious US-led free-trade deal with Malaysia. — AFP / Reuters