Students and human rights lawyers have filed a civil lawsuit against Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the Prime Minister, and Gen Chalermpol Srisawat, Chief of the Defence Forces, asking the Court to revoke allegedly illegitimate orders regarding public gatherings.
Norasate and other plaintiffs proceed to the Court.
On 22 August, student leaders from 6 universities, represented by a team of lawyers from the Human Rights Lawyers Alliance, went to Ratchadaphisek Civil Court to sue the Prime Minister and Gen Chalermpol over recent regulations issued under the Emergency Decree which increase the penalties for violating the restrictions on public gatherings during the State of Emergency.
The lawsuit stemmed from two orders. First, a 27 July 2022 Order of the Prime Minister under the Emergency Decree, stating that peaceful protests can be held and that organizers must follow requirements under the Public Assembly Act.
However, on 1 August 2022, Gen Chalermpol issued another order stating that restrictions and requirements under the Public Assembly Act will be enforced during the State of Emergency, and those violating these restrictions will face the penalties stipulated in the Emergency Decree, i.e. up to 2 years in prison and a fine of up to 40,000 baht, sentences heavier than most of the offences under the Public Assembly Act.
Lawyer Norasate Nanongtoom said that although these orders state that the Public Assembly Act now applies during the State of Emergency, it seems like a covert way of increasing the penalties for violating public gathering restrictions. The announcement also gives the Chief of the Defence Forces the authority to decide how a gathering is to be dispersed, even though the Public Assembly requires officials to request court permission to order a protest to disperse.
If these new orders come into effect, Norasate said, it would be a grievous violation of human rights, noting that he submitted evidence to the Court that the police are preparing forces for the protests. Another problem is that the inferior law would contradict the superior law in regards to heavier punishment.
The Court scheduled a hearing on 23 August at 10.30 without making an immediate temporary injunction.
Meanwhile, Jenissa Saengarun, President of the Thammasat University Student Union, said that the orders are unfair, as they increased the penalties for holding a gathering, and questioned whether the Emergency Decree, declared supposedly to combat the spread of Covid-19, is being used to restrict people’s rights and freedom.
The Public Assembly Act carries a 6-month to 1-year jail term and a 10,000-20,000 baht fine for offenses like staging protests without notifying the authorities 24 hours prior to the event, blocking entrances to important public infrastructure or violating an order to disperse.
The law also gives a 10-year jail term or fine of up to 200,000 baht for protests that either permanently or temporarily block access to public facilities or communication systems, and a 3-5 year jail sentence or fine of up to 100,000 baht for the organizers if they allow protesters to carry weapons or firearms at the protest.
Norasate said that they would also request the court for a temporary injunction to suspend these orders, as there will be several protests on 23 – 24 August, since on 24 August, Gen Prayut will have been in office for 8 years, the maximum term for a Prime Minister according to the 2017 Constitution.
Note: At 11.50 of 23 August, Prachatai English replaced the original text with an grammatically edited version.