KOMPAS.com – Government Thailand vowed to keep protecting the monarchy even though tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters gathered in Bangkok and other cities over the weekend.
Protesters are demanding for a new constitution and restrictions on the king’s powers.
Demonstrators again opposed an emergency decree banning public gatherings of more than five people.
About 10,000 people took to the streets and surrounded the Bangkok Victory Monument and blocked traffic around the main business center.
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Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha supported the idea of a parliament holding an emergency session to find a way out of the current political crisis, but he said the government must protect the monarchy.
“The government has done its best to make a compromise. What I ask is to avoid destroying government and public infrastructure,” Prayut said as quoted by CNN International, October 19, 2020.
“As we saw yesterday there was an incident, there was fighting among protesters. I would urge them to be extra careful,” he continued.
Prayut added that the government and all Thai citizens are obliged to protect the monarchy.
Threat of prison sentence
The Thai anti-government movement is getting bolder, and even some anti-monarchy hashtags that are trending on social media are shouted on the streets of Bangkok.
Protesters are risking long prison terms by breaking old taboos to criticize the monarchy.
The leaders protest has been arrested on charges such as sedition, which is punishable by up to seven years in prison.
On Friday (16/10/2020), two activists were arrested on charges of committing violence against the Queen, after her motorcade was blocked by an anti-government mob.
The two men are likely to face life sentences.
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However, threats of imprisonment, arrest of protest leaders and emergency decrees have not deterred the protest movement, which demands reform of the monarchy and holds the King in charge of the constitution.
The movement started in earnest after former general and coup leader Prayur returned to power following a disputed general election in 2019.
Another major demand from the protesters is for a bill to be redesigned by the military to allow the military to hold political power.
True democracy cannot occur in Thailand, until a ruler consisting of the monarchy, military political elite and the wealthy is reformed.
Warning to the media
Police have ordered Thailand’s National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission to investigate four local media outlets for coverage of the protests.
A police notification issued Friday said local media including Voice TV, The Reporters and The Standrard posted content deemed disruptive to national security, peace and public morals under the new emergency measures.
If the coverage is known to be illegal, it may face suspension of operations and digital content will be removed.
Deputy police spokesman Kritsana Pattanacharoen announced the formation of a media information management committee tasked with investigating all media and electronic information affecting internal security.
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Meanwhile, Thailand’s Club of Foreign Correspondents issued a statement saying the new ruling vaguely defines the criteria for news coverage, and expressed concern that journalists could be arrested simply for doing their job.
“The FCCT urges the authorities to respect the roles and responsibilities of all media in Thailand,” he said.
Thailand has one of those laws that prohibits criticism of the King, Queen, heir or district head.
The law carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.
Imitating Hong Kong and Telegram
The crowd over the weekend was fueled by clashes between police and protesters in Bangkok on Friday.
Riot police approached protesters at the Pathumwan intersection and fired water cannons with indelible blue dye to disperse the crowd.
The move opened a new chapter for the student-led protest movement in Thailand to have heated up since July.
At the weekend, protesters arrived in larger numbers, with authorities failing to prevent crowds from gathering by shutting down the elevated rail system in the city and parts of the subway.
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The demonstrators used stealthy tactics inspired by the 2019 Hong Kong protests to evade the authorities.
Protest leaderless is hosted on the Telegram platform, with locations announced on social media.
Throughout the torrential rains, protesters called on Prime Minister Prayut to step down and the authorities to release the detained protesters.
The total number of people is estimated at around 20,000 and 74 people were arrested at three locations.
Prayut, who denies that he orchestrated last year’s general elections, insists he will not resign.
On Sunday, he warned that increasing numbers of anti-government mobs across the country might be used by activists to incite violence.
The palace has not yet commented on these protests.
“The state needs people who love the country and love royal institutions,” said Thai King Maha Vajiralongkom.
Started by students, the protest movement drew support from all walks of life and Thai celebrities increasingly showed their support by posting messages to their millions of followers.
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