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Police in Songkhla Province have turned down a request to hold an anti-seawall public gathering at Muang Ngam beach, claiming it would violate the Emergency Decree on Covid-19 control. Many people still went to express their objections on the beach where the construction is taking place, while police took video recordings and photos.

Protesters were confronting with a provincial authority at Muang Ngam beach

On 23 May, Pol Col Somchai Noppasri, Muang Ngam Police Station Superintendent, turned down a request for a public gathering on Muang Ngam beach where a sea wall is under construction.

The letter was submitted on 23 May by Anuman Khananaem, a representative of a beach conservation network. The Public Assembly Act requires organizers to submit a request to the police for advance permission. 

Pol Col Somchai affirmed to Prachatai that he had refused the gathering because it would be held under the Emergency Decree and would enhance the risk of Covid-19 contagion. 

Anuman posted on his Facebook page his disagreement with the police objection. He invited people to express their objections to the seawall construction via social media instead.

Nevertheless, there were still people who went to express their views on the beach where dozens of police officers and officers from the Provincial Internal Security Operation Command (ISOC) Office were deployed.

“Today on the site, we met a force of officials all along the beach which we regard as a threat to the rights of the people. However, I wish to affirm to the public that the expression to protect the sand beach resource is a right under the constitution of the kingdom” said Anuman in his statement.

Somchai said that the authorities were there to ensure that people maintained social distancing and to prevent any third party from manipulating the gathering. The authorities have taken photos and videos of the people at the beach and further prosecution depends on his superiors. However, he believes that there will be no prosecutions.

The seawall is being constructed along the 7.2 km Muang Ngam beach, a public recreation space, tourist spot and fishing pier. The current phase of the project costs 87 million baht for 710 metres of a projected 2,625 metres.

Death of the beach? Conflict over Songkhla seawall construction

The project claims to protect the beach from further erosion, which will affect seaside infrastructure. The project is scrutinized by many out of concern for its necessity, environmental impact and legitimacy. They claim that the public hearings were not inclusive.

On 14 May, the anti-seawall group filed a lawsuit with the Administrative Court calling for a halt to the project and removal of what has already been built. They claimed that the project lacked public participation during the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and required permission to modify the public landscape.

In December 2013, the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (ONEP) removed seawalls from the category of constructions that require an EIA. Previously, any seawall longer than 200 metres was subject to the EIA process. Apisak Tassanee, from the beach conservation group ‘Beach for Life’, claimed that the seawall has a severe environmental impact and should require an EIA.

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