Thai protesters continue rallies, ask court to revoke emergency | Thailand


Thousands defy state of emergency and rally for eighth straight day as Royalists hold counter demonstration in Bangkok.

Thousands of protesters have rallied in the Thai capital, Bangkok, for the eighth straight day as student activists applied to a court on Wednesday for the revocation of the state of emergency declared last week in an effort to rein in the country’s growing anti-government protests.

Demonstrations have continued daily in a movement that calls for Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to step down, for a more democratic constitution and for reforms to the monarchy – a revered institution traditionally treated as sacrosanct in Thailand.

Wednesday’s anti-government demonstration came as scores of yellow-clad Thai royalists held a counterrally at Ramkhamhaeng University in Bangkok to show support for King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s monarchy.

The two sides later clashed in Bangkok, with both groups shouting at each other and some throwing water bottles and other objects.

Police said they were trying to separate the two groups.

The eighth-straight day of anti-government protests came despite the arrest of many top leaders and the state of emergency banning public gatherings of more than four people.

Even the forcible dispersion of a rally by riot police backed by water cannon in Bangkok last Friday failed to faze protesters, who appeared in equal or greater numbers on subsequent days.

Since Friday, police have not confronted the protesters directly, instead trying to disrupt their gatherings by selective shutdowns of mass transit and seeking to block their online organising activities.

Pro-democracy protesters attend an anti-government protest, in Bangkok, Thailand, on October 21, 2020 [Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters]
Police try to separate pro-democracy protesters and royalists during a clash in Bangkok, Thailand October 21, 2020 [Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters]

The six university students who went to a civil court in Bangkok on Wednesday are suing Prayuth, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and national police chief Suwat Chaengyodsuk. They want the court to temporarily revoke the emergency decree until a full legal ruling can be issued on its legality.

The students, who read their petition to the media in Thai, English and German, said the decree restricted the legal right of assembly and “excessively, unfairly and shamelessly violated the rights and freedoms of people” with no respect to the constitution.

The court did not act on their petition but may rule on Thursday on a similar appeal that was filed on Tuesday by the opposition Pheu Thai party.

Separately on Wednesday, two protest leaders approached a Bangkok criminal court and sought their release on bail. After a hearing, however, the court denied them bail, saying they could pose a threat to public order.

The two – Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak and Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul – were initially taken into custody during an attempted overnight rally outside the prime minister’s office on the night of October 14. They were released on Tuesday but immediately rearrested on other charges.

As he was being driven into the court compound in a prison van, Parit opened a window, flashed a three-fingered salute – the protesters’ symbol of defiance – and shouted, “The court must side with the people!”

Royalists take part in a rally to show support for the Thai royal establishment in Su-ngai Kolok District in Thailand’s southern province of Narathiwat on October 21, 2020 [Madaree Tohlala/AFP]

Another activist was arrested on Wednesday morning in connection with last week’s protests. Suranart Panprasert is accused of involvement with acts of harm against the queen when her motorcade passed a small crowd of demonstrators. Depending upon exactly what he is charged with by a court, he could face a life sentence if convicted.

According to witnesses and video footage, no violence occurred as the motorcade passed, but a small group of people made the three-finger protest gesture and shouted slogans at the car carrying Queen Suthida, the wife of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Thailand’s Parliament is reconvening for a special session next week to deal with the political pressures of the protests. The government has also sought to censor reporting of the demonstrations, citing “distorted information” that could cause unrest and confusion, but the targeted outlets were continuing to broadcast on Wednesday.