The decree, which took effect in the capital Bangkok at 4 a.m. local time, was enforced after thousands of protesters marched from the city’s Monument to Democracy and broke through a police barricade to camp in front of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha late wednesday. Protesters called for Prayut’s resignation and the reform of the monarchy.
“Because it turned out that there are several groups that invite, incite and hold illegal meetings,” the decree said. “There are activities that affect public order.”
The government also cited protesters obstructing a royal motorcade as the reason for the emergency decree. Video from the scene showed police repel protesters who scream and make defiant salute with three fingers from the movie “The Hunger Games”
“Therefore, there are sufficient grounds to believe that acts of violence have been committed. And this has affected the stability, security, property and staff of the government. This is no longer a peaceful assembly, as the constitution should guarantee.” added to the decree.
Along with restricting groups to five people, the emergency decree includes a nationwide ban on publishing and broadcasting news and information – including online – which is causing fear among the public. Appointed staff will now be allowed to apply new traffic rules and close certain premises to the public.
Police also arrested several prominent activists in early Thursday after anti-government protests on Wednesday, according to Thai human rights lawyers.
Human rights lawyer and protest leader Arnon Nampa was arrested on Thursday morning after a speech he gave in the northern city of Chiang Mai on Wednesday.
And Panupong Yadnok was also arrested on Thursday morning, although it is not clear why he was detained. Panupong and Arnon were arrested once before this year in connection with the protests.
On August 10, Panusaya took the stage and publicly presented the monarchy with a 10-point list of demands for reform. Panusaya is a spokesman for the Tamasat United Front and Demonstration student union, whose demands include repealing anti-defamation laws, a new constitution, abolishing royal services, removing a military-run government and disbanding the king’s royal guard.
Student-led protests, which have continued in Thailand since July, have escalated in recent weeks. The protesters, who now include a large circle of society in their ranks, are calling for a new constitution, the dissolution of parliament and the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut, as well as an end to intimidation of government critics.
But a growing central demand is the reform of the monarchy in order to limit the powers of King Vajiralongkorn and ensure a true constitutional monarch in a democratic system.
This is the biggest challenge for the government in decades, when young people publicly break ingrained taboos, when they speak openly about the royal family in public. Thailand has some of the world’s strictest laws of splendor, and criticizing the king, queen or obvious heir can lead to a maximum of 15 years in prison.
The king, who spends much of his time abroad, returned to Thailand this week for a number of royal duties, including commemorating his father, the late King Bumibol Adulyadej.
King Vajiralongkorn faced protesters for the first time on Tuesday. After a demonstration in front of the prime minister’s office, she was smashed by police with 21 protesters arrested, and the king’s convoy passed by protesters who shouted “release our friends” and greeted with three fingers.
Authorities had stepped up security the next morning, deploying about 15,000 police to control the crowds. As the protesters gathered, they were greeted by a number of royalist groups, who turned out to be dressed in yellow – the color of the monarchy.
“I’m here to show my respect for the king,” said Need, 65, a private Bangkok business owner. He told protesters: “They need to go home and focus on their research. Our country has three pillars; nation, religion and monarchy. They need to know that.”
There were questions about whether protesters could reunite the large crowds seen at previous rallies, but as Wednesday passed, thousands of people joined the march – with hundreds spending the night in front of the Government House.
On Thursday morning, a Free Youth protest group called on people to oppose the gathering ban and join an afternoon demonstration in Bangkok, saying in a statement on Facebook that “high school and university students, workers and people have gathered peacefully and have not started any violence. “
“But it is now clear that the government has deliberately used the monarchy as a tool to get rid of those who are calling for a better future, a future with equality and no more inconsistencies,” the group said.
While the student-led movement has failed to arrest its top leaders, it “is likely to maintain its grip,” said Titinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist and director of the Institute for Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University.
“Popular complaints are as broad and deep as traditional Thai institutions, such as the military, the monarchy and the judiciary, are hampering reforms and change that can enable Thailand to move forward,” he said.
He added that Wednesday’s scenes were “a delayed and delayed hearing that was held under cover during the last reign. This is the grinding transformation of Thailand that will arrive in the 21st century.”