Thailand withdraws Bangkok emergency decree after protests swell

The move to ban gatherings and curb information only served to fuel the anti-government protests.

Protesters make a three-finger salute during an anti-government protest in Bangkok on Wednesday [Jorge Silva/Reuters]

Thailand on Thursday rolled back a “severe emergency,” a decree that was introduced last week to end months of protests against the government and monarchy but served only to inflame anger and bring tens of thousands of people onto the streets.

A government statement published in the official Royal Gazette said that as of 12pm (05:00 GMT) the emergency measures, including a ban on political gatherings of five or more people and publishing news that could affect security, would come to an end.

“The current violent situation that led to the announcement of the severe situation has eased and ended to a situation in which government officials and state agencies can enforce the regular laws,” the statement said.

The only specific incident given for the ban was one in which Queen Suthida’s convoy was jeered by protesters, but it came after weeks of protests that are the biggest challenge in years to Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Prayuth said in a televised address on Wednesday night that he was willing to withdraw the decree as a way of reducing political tension. Tens of thousands of people were on the streets as he made his speech.

Police officers line up as pro-democracy protesters marched towards the Government House on Wednesday [Jorge Silva/Reuters]

Protesters, who have given Prayuth a three-day deadline to quit said that withdrawing the measures was not enough.

“He’s still seeking to stay in power while ignoring all the people’s demands. The emergency decree shouldn’t have been issued in the first place,” Sirawith “Ja New” Seritiwat, one of the leaders, said.

Parliamentary session

A two-day extraordinary session of parliament is due to begin on October 26 to discuss the protesters’ demands, which include not only Prayuth’s resignation and the reform of the monarchy – an unprecedented call in a country where criticism of the royal family is taboo – but also changes to the constitution.

The parliament is dominated by those loyal to the establishment with the upper house appointed entirely by the military.

“As representatives of the people, legislators have the task of ensuring that measures taken by the government are in line with human rights and democratic principles,” Tom Villarin, a board member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights and a former MP in the Philippines.

“The upcoming session is an important platform for MPs to also call for the immediate and unconditional release of all detained peaceful pro-democracy activists and remind the government of their duty to ensure the Thai people are able to exercise the right of peaceful assembly and expression.”

Dozens of protesters – including many of the most high-profile protest leaders – have been arrested during the crackdown.

Among them was Patsaravalee “Mind” Tanakitvibulpon, who was released on Thursday after being arrested a day earlier.

Patsaravalee, 25, told reporters after being freed that the court had deemed the charges were not serious and that she still needed to attend classes and exams, so bail was granted without having to submit any guarantees.

One of Thailand’s protest leaders, Patsaravalee ‘Mind’ Tanakitvibulpon was freed on bail on Thursday as the prime minister withdrew a ‘severe’ state of emergency imposed last week [Chalinee Thirasupa/Reuters]

Protesters accuse Prayuth of rigging last year’s election to remain in power after seizing control in a 2014 coup. The former general says the election was fair. Protesters accuse the monarchy of enabling years of military domination and want to curb the king’s powers.

The palace has a policy of not commenting to the media.

Thailand is still under a state of emergency because of coronavirus restrictions.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters