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The military officers in northern Thailand have attempted to prevent a group of villagers from submitting a complaint to the provincial governor, saying that the act might breach the Public Assembly Act recently enacted.  

According to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR), military and police officers in the northern province of Lampang came Lampang Provincial Hall on 17 August 2015 to monitor a group of villagers who came to submit a complaint about environmental concerns to the governor of the province.

Before the villagers travelled to the provincial hall, several military and police officers came to deter the group from carrying out their plan, saying that the assembly might be illegal under the 2015 Public Assembly Act.   

About 60 villagers who call themselves ‘Kon Rak Ban Haeng ’ (Ban Heang Conservation Group) from Ban Haeng Sub-district in Ngao District of Lampang came to submit a letter to the governor to urge the authorities to issue a certificate to make the ‘Khua Tad’ stream a protected public property, claiming that they have been using the stream to irrigate farmlands for many generations.

Kon Rak Ban Haeng Conservation Group members waiting to submit the complaint letter to the provincial governor at Lampang City Hall under tight monitoring by military officers on 17 August 2015 (courtesy ofLampang Mine Facebook Page)

The villagers fear that the area might be given to a private company for coal mining since a deposit of lignite, a type of coal known for its high carbon emissions, was found in the area. Moreover, the villagers also call on the authorities to not the enact the new Lampang City planning policies, fearing that it would have an impact on land use and the environment.

In the end, the villagers had to submit the complaint letter to the Damrong Tham Centre, a centre established by the Interior Ministry to accept public complaints, because the governor was not present.  

Prior to their visit to the provincial hall, on 16 August 2015 at around 9 pm, the villagers reported that military officers from the 32nd Army Division came to Bang Haeng Village and told the villagers’ representatives not to submit the complaint to the governor and suggested that they should submit the complaint to the district chief instead.

According to the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), Waewrin Buangern, aka Jo, a Kon Rak Ban Haeng Conservation Group coordinator, has been under constant surveillance by the military authorities. She is contacted by the authorities on a regular basis for information on her whereabouts.

On 11 November 2014, AHRC reported that military officers at Patoupah Special Military Training Facility threatened Waewrin with enforced disappearance while she was in an ‘attitude adjustment session’ with ten other villagers from the group at the military base.   

After the complaint letter was submitted, late on Wednesday afternoon, 19 August 2015, four police officers in plainclothes from Ngao District Police Station came to the house of one of the Kon Rak Ban Haeng leaders and took pictures of the house while its occupants were not present. According to next door neighbours who talked to the plainclothes officers, the officers came to ask for a copy of the complaint letter that the villagers submitted.

The 2015 Public Assembly Act was approved by the junta cabinet and announced in the Royal Gazette on 9 July 2015. Usually, the act will come into force three months after its announcement in the Royal Gazette.

In brief, the Public Assembly Act states that the organisers of any demonstration must ‘notify’ the police about a planned rally, where it will take place and when it will start and end, at least 24 hours before the rally commences.  If the assembly organizers want to extend the assembly, they must notify the authorities 24 hours in advance. Also, certain venues are prohibited as rally sites under the bill and the police have the authority to regulate and oversee rallies.

In July 2015, Prayuth Chan-o-cha, the junta leader and Prime Minister, stated that the act would not affect innocent people and peaceful protesters.

"Don't look at it and think that officials want to restrict any rights," Khaosod English quoted the PM as saying. "If the rallies are innocent rallies, peaceful, unarmed, and in accordance with democracy, they can go forward. Who would forbid that? The only exceptions are rallies that don't have innocent intentions or are ready to escalate violence. We have learned lessons about that in the past, haven't we?"

Jantajira Iammayura, a Thammasat University law lecturer and a member of Nitirat, said however that the act does not respect the people’s right to peaceful assembly, guaranteed by Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), of which Thailand is a state party, because it creates petty legal hindrances that would be a convenient way to make assemblies unlawful.

“Technical failures, such as failing to notify the police within the deadline, can overrule the main conditions, which are assembling peacefully and without weapons”, said Jantajira. “This is absolutely unconstitutional and contradicts the ICCPR.”

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