An overview of public assemblies and harassment following the gatherings May 2022

Chana La

# Public Assemblies and Harassment following the public gatherings and expression in May 2022

# Overall Situation of the Public Assemblies

Since 26 March 2020, the Thai government has imposed the Public Administration in Emergency Situations B.E. 2548 (2005) ushering into Thailand a state of emergency for over two years. Even though the government has eased up restrictions including relaxing Covid measures for incoming arrivals such as the mandatory quarantine, the preparation to change Covid-19 from a pandemic to an endemic, the government has still extended the declaration of the state of emergency in all vicinities of the Kingdom on 26 May 2022 for the 18th time from 1 June-31 July 2022 owing to the serious situation of the infection around the world. Until now, the government has invoked the pandemic as a reason to restrict freedom of expression and freedom of public assembly claiming that “the spread of Covid-19 has given rise to a situation which affects public order and public safety and warrants a stringent and urgent measure to prevent it from spreading far and wide.” Disease control measures have been meted out to restrict the right to freedom of expression and freedom of public assembly including a ban of public gathering followed by the invocation of the Emergency Decree to criminalize persons who have exercised their freedom of expression and freedom of public assembly. As a result, as many as 1,452 individuals in 631 cases have been prosecuted for exercising their freedom of expression and freedom of public assembly in an offence against the Emergency Decree. Many of such cases are incompatible with the disease prevention measures. For example, in various instances, the state has relaxed the measure to allow certain public gathering during a festive period or an economic activity while continuing to restrict public assembly including Car Mob which involves the protesters staying in their own vehicles to conduct a symbolic action. Still, Car Mob protesters have been charged in at least 96 cases which reflect the misuse of the law that aims to help prevent the spread of the disease.

In May 2022, there have been at least 52 public assemblies and expressions throughout the country, about one third more than those in April (when 35 public assemblies happened.) This includes at least 34 activities to show symbolic action to demand the right to bail of political activists who have been remanded in custody, 25 of which were organized by the Resistant Citizen including the third round of the Stand Stop Detention starting on 6th May 2022 in front of the Supreme Court and various spots in Bangkok including at the entrance of the Bangkok Remand Prison and the Democracy Monument and in Khon Kaen and Ubonratchathani. This month saw the highest number of persons detained, 11 of them including nine who are remanded in custody and two convicted inmates pending the appeals. Three persons have been incarcerated in prison related to lese majeste cases (from eight individuals in April) including ‘Get’ Sophon from the Mok Luang Rim Nam who has been arrested and detained pretrial since 2nd May. He was bailed out on 31st May. Bai Por and Netiphon (last name withheld) from Thaluwang have been remanded in custody since 3rd May.

In addition, several groups have committed activities on politically important days and days to commemorate the demand of rights such as the May Day when at least two public assemblies were held to demand labor rights organized by the Labor Network for People’s Rights and its alliances such as the Workers' Union, the Raiders Union, and migrant workers who converged at the Government House. Each group has their own demands such as for migrant workers, the protesters demanded that the Thai government ratify the ILO Convention no. 87 and 98 to recognize labour rights of bother Thai and migrant works to form a labour union. The other group, particularly the Workers' Union, organized an activity at the Ratchaprasong intersection.

To mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia on 17 May 2022, the Free Gender and the Feminist’s Liberation Front have ready out the verdict of the People’s Tribunal in mockery of the verdict of the Constitutional Court on its ruling that the Civil and Commercial Code’s Section 1448 which only recognizes a marriage between a man and a woman is not incompatible of the Constitution.

May also marks several commemoration days. For example, 19 May marks the 12th anniversary of the crackdown of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) in 2010, the commemoration of the Bloody May in 1992, the Thaluwang’s street polls in several places throughout Bangkok**, and the 8th anniversary of the 2014 military coup** with activities organized in various provinces including Khon Kaen and Phuket.

Sit-in protests have returned when the Parliamentary session was reopened from 23rd to 30th May 2022. People’s sector from various groups have gathered in front of the UN Headquarters on Ratchadamnoen Road to demand the cabinet suspend the Draft Act on the Operations of Not-for-Profit Organizations B.E.… since its promulgation will affect the operations of people’s organizations and civil society. Throughout the week, various activities were organized including a march to hand over letter at the Government House. During 27th-29th May 2022, the authorities announced that there was going to be graduation ceremony at Thammasat University, Tha Phra Chan Campus and the police asked for cooperation to rearrange the sit-in area in response to the royal motorcade. The protesters insisted, however, that they would not move elsewhere. Meanwhile, police forces including the crowd control police were heavily deployed. Nevertheless, on 30th May, Theeraphat Prayunsitthi, Permanent Secretary of the Office of the Prime Minister has met with the protesters and informed them that their demands had been raised during the meeting of the cabinet. Anucha Nakasai, Minister of the Office of the Prime Minister, was asked to listen to their demands. The protest leaders, however, refused to negotiate with the government. Then, they declared the victory after their eight days of sit-in protest to force the cabinet to review the Draft Act on the Operations of Not-for-Profit Organizations and postpone it for Parliamentary session this time.

Even though there is no sign that large-scale demonstrations can soon return, there have been various public assemblies made to demand various rights constantly. Young people with the interest in political history are ready to mobilize and to speak out on concerned issues including the activities during the Bloody May and the 2010 crackdown of the Red Shirts. Nevertheless, the continuing detention of activists who raised questions about the monarchy such as members of the Thaluwang reflect the attempt to tighten their grip to restrict freedom of expression, particularly on the monarchy issues.

Besides, the restriction of the exercising freedom of expression and assembly near the significant places including House of Government still continues with the police riot and physical barriers; razor wire and shipping container. Additionally, another form of decreasing public space to exercise the right occurred, as this month marked Bangkok Governor Election, a forum was scheduled for Bangkok Governor candidates to share their visions and their human rights policies on the theme “Bangkok, leaving no one behind." The Pathumwan District, however, refused to give permission to have the event organized even though the organizers had obtained permission from the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, the venue, and permission to use sound system had been obtained from the Pathumwan Police Station. The venue had to be changed as a result. The District Office invoked concern about the use of sound system and Covid-19 prevention measures for bystanders on the BTS station, even though the organizers had already announced their measures.

**Since the Free Youth led public assemblies on 18 July 2020 until 31 May 2022, at least 1,813 individuals have been charged for participating in public assemblies or expressing their political opinions in 1,074 cases. Of this, 280 are youth under 18 years of age in 205 cases.**In this month, 28 political cases have been prosecuted including ten of offence against the Penal Code’s Section 112 and 18 cases on other political offences. Chief among them was the violation of the public assembly prohibition pursuant to the Public Administration in Emergency Situations (The Emergency Decree) in 15 cases including four against youth suspects.Compared with the case stats from April 2022, five new individuals have been charged in nine cases (counting only those who have never been charged before). Altogether, there have been at least 3,605 legal actions against the individuals although some of them are charged for multiple offences.

Detail of key offences can be described as follows;

  1. “Lese majeste” offence pursuant to the Penal Code’s Section112, at least 195 suspects in

211 cases. This month’s new cases, ten are an offence against Section 112. It has increased the number of individuals indicted on this charge to at least 211 cases, 19 of which are against youth suspects.

2. “Sedition” pursuant to the Penal Code’s Section116__, at least 125 suspects in 39 cases.**

3. An offence against the Emergency Decree, at least 1,452 suspects in 631 cases (since May 2020) The violation of the Emergency Decree has constantly been prosecuted, although its intensity has declined given a lack of massive rallies. Meanwhile, rulings have gradually been made in cases prosecuted related to the public assemblies in the past two years. Overall, the court tends to dismiss the cases or may levy just a fine as petty crime. However, the proceeding in each case can take years to complete, it has really incurred burden to the activists. Many of them have been indicted in a dozen of such cases. It therefore warrants a close monitoring of how the state has weaponized such law to stifle the exercise of freedom of expression. This month saw at least 15 new indictments on the violation of the Emergency Decree, four of which are against youth.

4. An offence against the Public Assembly Act, at least 107 suspects in 75 cases

5. An offence against the Computer Crimes Act, at least 132 suspects in 151 cases

6. A contempt of court, at least 34 suspects in 18 cases, and insult of the court, at least 25 suspects in 6 cases

# Updates on harassment against the public

May saw at least 52 public assemblies, increased from April, without large-scale rallies. Political prosecution and harassment against the public have, however, continued unabated. In this month**, at least 37 individuals have been subject to harassment due to various reasons** as follows;

# Harassment during the visits of VIPs

Toward late May, King Rama X was scheduled to visit Nong Bua Lamphu prompting an act of harassment against a series of activists in Udon Thani and Nong Bua Lamphu. This time, activists of Dung Din Group and Udon Done have been surveilled since early May even though they were not even aware of the royal visit and had no plan to organize political activity. Petch (not real name), member of Dung Din Group, recalls that the police tried to search for their personal information, name and address of Koy (not real name). They called her mom and pressured her lecturers to help call her dad about her current address. The lecturer refused to reveal what was discussed with the police. This has caused Koy to feel concerned and uncomfortable. Kul (not real name) said that the police followed his Facebook and called the language institute he attended to ask for his information. The police even told Director of the institute that he was a threat to national security. They have even gone to harass him at home.

As to the Udon Done, at least four activists including Sri (not real name), an 18-years-old-student reports that the police has gone to her home and said that they did not want to do anything but were observing her and would report to their superior officials that Sri was not active during this time. Her relative who knew some police also called to warn her against being politically active and let her know that she was under their radar. Even though she was not in the local area during the time of the royal visit, the police still called and asked for her whereabouts. Ki (not real name) an 18-years-old-student received calls from police since early May 2022. They called her grandmom asking where she was and if she was being active on anything. They stopped called after 24 May 2022. In addition, Namo (not real name) and Book (not real name) received calls from police who asked where they were during the royal motorcade.

Root, member of Chicken Feet Revolution was subject to a search of his body and bag by police at the 14 October Memorial and was taken to the police station to ensure that he was there just to meet his friends. The police drove to follow him as they had received instruction to continue monitoring him. He presumed that this surveillance was triggered by a pending royal motorcade and the activity “Folding to Stop Detention” of the Draconis Revolution on that day.

There have been reports that Ratsadon Chiang Rai members were told by police to vacate a restaurant since Gen Prawit Wongsuwan was about to eat there claiming their gathering was an unauthorized public assembly. As a result, the Ratsadon Chiang Rai members had to move to another restaurant. In addition, several members report having seen vehicles of police forces in plainclothes or uniforms pulled over at their homes in the same evening.

# Harassment during political activities

Activists and Red Shirt supporters in Khon Kaen gathered in a ceremony to commemorate those who died during the crackdown on the protests on 19 May 2010 at Wat Adulyaram. Two plainclothes police officials who did not identify their affiliation were there to observe since before the ceremony began. The police also prohibited the activists from taking their photos. As to the activities by other groups, the Draconis Revolution gathered to fold paper cranes to demand the release of political prisoners. And the Ratsadon Khon Kaen organized a walk against military coup to commemorate the eighth anniversary of the coup in Thailand. All these activities faced interference by the police by either preventing it from happening or deploying police forces in plainclothes or uniforms to observe.

In addition to harassments during activities, at least ten individuals were subject to harassment by the officials. One female student was pulled away by a male teacher while she was trying to approach the Minister of Education to demand freedom to choose their haircut. Wariya Rojanamookda had three men wearing cropped haircut climbing over her home fences at night. They claimed to be police and simply dropped by to greet her. On the following day, two men wearing cropped haircut sat just right by her on a public bus and asked if she was going to organize a public assembly in Nakhon Phanom, where and when and what she was planning to do in Mukdahan. Then, they got off being picked up by a military vehicle. The incidence has caused her to feel concerned and she has reported the incidence to the police. Sai, owner of twitter handle “Thumboon888” reveals that she was barred from distributing food to the homeless as there was a royal motorcade on the other wise. After taking photo of her car’s license plate, they told her that the homeless were causing public disorder, and she did not know how to keep the orderliness.

During the graduation ceremony at Thammasat University, it has been reported that at least five individuals were subject to harassment as a result of their expressing their political views symbolically. One graduate attempted to express his view to support the repeal of the Penal Code’s Section 112 by conducting a street poll asking, “Does freedom of expression exist in Thailand?” near the entrance of the university. Although some officials approached him, he was not held in custody. One person came to the graduation ceremony wearing a T-shirt with the statement “Repeal 112, Reform the Monarchy”. Upon arrival at the entrance, the person was sopped and told to change his clothes. Several police officials then approached him and took his photo and asked for his personal information, although they did not ask to search his bag. Nevertheless, he refused to cooperate and was therefore denied entry into the university. After he went away, several men clad in yellow shirts and carrying walkie talkie, presumably military officials, drove motorcycles to follow him.

On 28th May, one person was denied entry into the university simply for wearing a T-shirt with the statement “Thalu Fah”. And according to a 13-years-old-activist, on 27 May, plainclothes officials were waiting for her in front of her school without clear reasons. On 28, other plainclothes officials have followed and waited in front of her home. On the way back, she noticed one double cab black truck kept stalking her. Upon her arrival at the university’s entrance, the plainclothes officials who followed her would shout to tell the police at the checkpoint to ask to look at her ID card. Then, she was apprehended by a female police official. Then, someone who claimed to be an organizer of the graduation ceremony has talked to the child activist. The child was offered a choice to remove her T-shirt with the statement “Repeal 112”, and to be allowed inside, or otherwise, she had to vacate the area. There was no agreement reached. On 29 May, she has gone to the graduation ceremony again, and this time, she hailed a sign that read “The Feudal Degree” and “Stop reproducing feudal ceremony #TheFeudalDegree”. The police then snatched the sign from her and tried to convince her to stay away from the Main Hall.

Later in the afternoon of 29th May, the Thammasat University’s Graduation Committee stopped Chonlathit Chotsawat and his friends including Panusaya ‘Rung’ and Benja Apan from taking photo with a paper sign with a statement translated as Health (welfare, goodness, survival, happiness) of the people is the supreme law.

# Harassment for unknown reasons

At least eight individuals including media were subject to harassment for unknown reasons. Among them was some youth activists and citizen journalist who mostly went to the protest field.

Anna, a 16-year-old-member of Bad Students who was subject to harassment and surveillance by plainclothes police from 15th April-15th May. The officials have committed various acts including a sudden arrest without arrest warrants, surveillance and inquiring about her movement each day, treating her to food, and offering her a lift to various places. Posh, a 17-year-old-activist was followed to his home by plainclothes officials more than eight times after participating in political rallies during 2020 – 2021. The harassment this time has started since 1 May 2022. They mostly took his photo and video, surveilled and watched outside when he was with his family. According to Posh, such actions by the police have caused much concern and fear for him and his family.

Thongsaeng Chaikaew, member of the Free Uttaradit, had his photo taken at home by someone who claimed to be a police detective. They also took photo of his car’s license plate. He thus asked the official to delete all the photos. Such suspicious acts have caused him to feel unsafe and lose trust in the authorities. ‘Ice’ Thanakrit (last name withheld) and ‘Lao’ Piyamit (last name withheld), two activists in Nakhon Sawan, were taken by plainclothes officials to the Muang Nakhon Sawan Police Station without any warrants against them. They were simply told ‘they were invited for a talk.’ The police wanted to find out who were the admin of the Draconis Revolution page. Both were taken to the police station with no access to lawyers and had their phones seized for a search. The officials claimed "This is not harassment."

In addition, media was subject to harassment. Live Real page, an independent media which livestream political assemblies posted a message saying that some plainclothes officials were following and taking their photo and taking photo of their vehicle at their domicile residence even though the admin insisted that they no longer lived there. Several other media workers have been followed and monitored including ‘Kuy’ Prachatai, or another independent media Uncle Don Ketphuek, Katoey Mae Look On and Sakdina Sue Daeng, Friendstalk and O Por, and Ratsadon News.

# Trend of harassment in June

According to May’s data, the highest number of harassments took place in Thammasat University during the graduation ceremony. The targeted persons included not must the graduate who conducted a street poll during the ceremony and another individual who held up a sign, but also other people who simply wanted to participate in the ceremony simply because their wearing T-shirts with the statement ‘Repeal 112.’ It indicates how monarchy remains a sensitive issue for the authorities.

Nevertheless, as to the harassment targeting children and youth, this month saw a harassment against a 13-year-old-child and other youth activists including the case of Anna who was subject to harassment for the entire one month. Media have been under their radar as well. Therefore, it is possible that harassment in June will continue to increase. Any political activity even by a small group of activists or even a solo activist could be targeted by the authorities regardless of the ages of the organizers. It is predicted that that harassment on activities concerning Section 112 will continue to increase. Given the decline of the overall public assemblies, it has perhaps prompted the police to resort to use force to harass activists to deter any attempt to organize political activities in the future.