THAILAND 2015 PUBLIC ASSEMBLY ACT: A FORWARD STATEMENT BY ACTIVISTS USING PUBLIC ASSEMBLY RIGHTS TO DEFEND NATURAL RESOURCES
31 JULY 2015
Thailand. On 13th August 2015, the 2015 Public Assembly Act will come into force having been approved by the military-appointed National Legislative Assembly in May 2015. This act consists of 35 articles regulating public gatherings, which will effectively impose severe and illegitimate restrictions to the right to public assembly.
According to the text of the law, public assemblies in a 150 meter radius around institutional buildings and interruptions of access to public services, offices or international organizations will be prohibited. Advanced permission for any public assembly will be required; timing restrictions for rally speeches and for marches will be imposed. Furthermore the Act places undue responsibility on the organisers of a public assembly for all acts committed by any demonstrator.
The following statement, issued by the Community Media for Social Justice Center, collects the remonstrations community-based Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) defending natural resources. All are concerned of the effects such restrictions will have on their activities and, therefore on the people and causes they advocate for.
Public assembly rights are essential for community-based HRDs to claim their Human Rights and defend theirs and others’ Human Rights. This Public Assembly Act, imposed by illegitimate means and illegitimate authorities, is in itself an excessive restriction of basic Human Rights. Protection International calls for the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to halt the implementation of this law until the control of the Thailand’s government returns to democratic processes and accountable governance.
Voices of activists using public assembly rights to defend natural resources, regarding the 2015 Public Assembly Act
Soon, the 2015 Public Assembly Act shall come into force as it has been endorsed after three readings by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) (both the second and third readings took place the same day on 1 May 2015). It was published in the Government Gazette on 14 July 2015 and shall become effective 30 days after that.
The Act is composed of 35 Articles including a prohibition on public assembly in a 150 meter radius around royal palaces, a prohibition on public assembly at the Parliament, Government House, and the Court of Justice. The National Police Chief or a designated officer is authorized to declare an off-limits zone around which public assembly is banned in a 50 meter radius. No blockage and interruption of access to public services including at airports, boat piers, railway stations, bus terminals, hospitals, schools, religious sanctuaries, embassies, consulates, and offices of international organizations is allowed. Also, advanced permission must be obtained 24 hours prior to any public assembly with details of the purpose, date and time, and venue of the public assembly indicated. No rally speech can be made from midnight until 6.00am and no march can take place between 18.00 – 06.00, though dispersal of the assembly has to be made with judicial review.
People sector organizations which have been exercising the right to public assembly to advocate and voice their demands for solutions from the government and other state agencies have their opinions to voice. They have been working to monitor problems at the grassroots level regarding natural resource management policy which has affected the livelihood and survival of local villagers. All these organizations deem that, given the promulgation of the 2015 Public Assembly Act, their rights and liberties toward public assembly are being infringed upon. Law is now being used as a tool by state officers to control public assembly while their sufferings continue to go unaddressed.
Ms. Wanna Lawan, a core member of Rak Ban Haeng Group, Lampang, said that the Public Assembly Act violates the rights of villagers. If the villagers agree to hold a rally in the venue agreed by the authorities, it would be like they accept an invitation to attend a meeting and they shall not be allowed to express their opinions genuinely. Thus, it will not help to solve their problems effectively since state agencies or project developers can proceed according to their plans without public participation and the villagers have no right to protest the project fully.
Mr. Suraphan Ruchichaiwat, a core member of Khon Rak Ban Kerd Group, Wangsaphung District, Loei Province, said that he does not agree with the Public Assembly Act since the law has become a tool for the state and corporations to control villagers. Villagers should not be required to ask for permission to protest in a particular place. They protest because they are affected by the problems, and it is their very right to protest.
Ms. Manee Boonrod, a core member of the Udonthani Conservation Group, said that she does not agree with the idea that villagers have to seek permission from police or Governor, prior to organizing a public assembly since such requirement is an infringement on people’s rights. The promulgation of such Act is therefore a violation of people’s rights.
Ms. Rabiang Khaengkhan, a core member from the Khokhinkhao Conservation Group, Namphong District, Khon Kaen Province, said that she does not agree with the idea that villagers are required to seek permission from the state when they want to organize any activity. She thinks what the villagers are doing bears no harm, and they protest peacefully causing no damage to the government.
Mr. Somyot Saenkhot, a core member of the Na Moon Conservation Group, Khon Kaen, said that he does not agree that prior permission must be sought for a public assembly to take place since it is likely that the authorities would deny such request. A public assembly is an exercise of the right to freedom of expression. He also does not agree with a ban against demonstration since such a march might be necessary to draw more people to the rally. It should depend on if the villagers are ready to march and the timing should be subject to the discretion of the villagers themselves.
Mr. Puth Boontem, coordinator of the Assembly of the Poor the case of Rasisalai and Hua Na Dam, said that the law puts too much restriction on rights. He does not agree with the promulgation of the law since it purports to prevent people from demonstrating against the government. In fact, we have taken to the street simply to seek solutions to the violation of the villagers’ rights. The impact of projects will be continue, more government officers will not listen to us, and the government will ignore us. It is necessary sometimes for a march by protesters since it increases their leverage.
Mr. Wichian Sichannon, President of the Lam Paniang Basin Conservation and Restoration Group, Nongbualamphu, said that he does not agree with the Act since it is has been issued by a military junta which wants to gain absolute control over everything. When no such law existed, the government had already never heeded to voices of villagers. As the military junta has promulgated the law, it clearly reflects how the law works in favor of the rich, but ignores voices of the poor making them too scared to speak up and voice out their views.
Ms. Amonrat Wisetwan, a core member of the Chee River Basin Group, said that our problems remain unresolved. And with such an Act, we shall not be allowed to move at all. We have taken to the street simply because we really suffered. It is not really a political rally. Even when we occupied and gathered at the Provincial Hall, they did not even give a damn about us or to talk with us. That we have to demonstrate in the designated place will simply turn people away from listening to our issues. Villagers’ demonstrations are organized since they really suffer from policies, and thus there should not be exemptions to the public law.
Ms. Oranut Phonphinyo, from the Secretariat of the Land Reform Network, said that the law puts too many restrictions on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression by the people since permission has to be given 24 hours prior to the scheduled action. What will happen if they turn down our request? The sufferings of the villagers cannot wait. If we are not allowed to protest at the Provincial Hall, where can we get together? She does not agree with the Act since in any political system, a person should be allowed the right to public assembly.
Last but not least, Mr. Phaithun Soisot, from the Assembly of the Poor working on the case of Kao Bat Village, said that according to a democratic system, such a right cannot be suppressed. If the villagers are banned from protesting inside a public building, then the only place they may be able to protest might be in the woods. Then, who would listen to them since the problems have not arisen from villagers’ mistakes, but from the power that be. Previously, in order for a government to address our problems, we had to demonstrate in order to put pressure on the government. Only through such pressure can villagers make themselves heard. Right now, with the promulgation of the law, it is tantamount to dismembering the limbs of villagers.
Community Media for Social Justice Center