Thai authorities have gathered leaders of protests under extensive emergency forces announced Thursday when repression began against escalating pro-democracy demonstrations, which were also aimed at the impregnable monarchy.
Three top activists were among nearly two dozen arrested under a decree that also bans the gathering of more than four people after months of student protests against the government.
This comes a day after protesters provoked a royal procession – flashing a three-fingered salute from the Hunger Games books and movies – in an unprecedented act of disobedience to the monarchy.
After emergency measures were announced early Thursday, riot police dispersed hundreds of protesters who were camping overnight in front of the prime minister̵
Army spokesman Lt. Gen. Santipong Tampia downplayed the presence of military officers around some government buildings, writing on Facebook that they were there “to assist law enforcement.”
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha was the army chief when the military seized power in a coup in 2014, before winning a disputed election last March as civilians.
Student leader Parit Chivarak was among those arrested, according to Panusaya Sitizhiravatanakul, another prominent activist whose own arrest was broadcast live on Facebook.
Anon Numpa, another senior figure in the protest movement, said he was forcibly taken by helicopter to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand “without my lawyer”.
“This is a violation of my rights and is extremely dangerous for me,” he wrote on Facebook.
It was not immediately clear how the detainees had access to their social media accounts.
In addition to limiting gatherings to four people, the new emergency measures also allow the seizure of “electronic communications equipment, data and weapons suspected of causing the emergency,” a government spokesman said.
“These are orders to ban the gathering of five or more people … and to ban the dissemination of news through electronic media that could affect national security,” the spokesman said in a statement.
– “Fan for the whole country” –
The order came after thousands of protesters gathered around the Monument to Democracy in Bangkok on Wednesday ahead of a planned royal motorcade ride with King Maha Vajiralongkorn and his family.
While police blocked most protesters away from the royal route, dozens were still present when the motorcade passed. Queen Sutida, sitting next to Prince Dipangkorn Rasmiyotti, could be seen staring out the limousine window as protesters lit up a three-fingered salute.
Such obvious challenges to the monarchy are unheard of in Thailand, where the influence of the royal family permeates every aspect of society.
Leading opposition figure Tanatorn Zhuangrungruangkit condemned the crackdown, calling on the government to “release all those arrested”.
“The government must quickly find a way to respond to the protesters’ demands, otherwise the situation will spread throughout the country,” he said.
Student leaders took to social media to urge supporters to take to the streets on Thursday, but there was no immediate sign that the calls had been heeded.
“Come into force – just giving moral support from home is not enough,” said the Free Youth Movement, which has organized mass demonstrations in recent months.
Police said they would set up checkpoints around the Ratchaprasong junction, the site of widespread repression in 2010, after Thailand’s most popular haidag on Twitter urged people to gather there.
The king spends most of his time in Europe, but in recent days has been in Thailand for the annual Buddhist ceremony and the anniversary of his father’s death.
Extremely wealthy, he is backed by a powerful army – which has long positioned itself as a defender of the monarchy – as well as by the establishment elite.
– Turbulent history –
There have been several popular uprisings in Thailand’s turbulent modern history that have endured long periods of political unrest and more than a dozen military coups since 1932.
In recent protests, leaders have repeatedly stated that they only want the monarchy to adapt to modern times.
Their demands include removing a strict defamation law – which protects the king from criticism – and keeping the monarch away from politics.
Since the beginning of the latest protests, dozens of activists have been arrested, accused of rioting and released on bail.
Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said the prime minister had ordered police to charge “protesters who obstructed the royal motorcade” on Wednesday.
“They must face legal procedures without exception.”
drill / fox