It comes after police moved in to disperse protesters gathered outside the prime minister’s offices and arrested about 20 people, including two protest leaders who have been among the most vocal in criticising the country’s monarchy, until recently something that was considered deeply taboo.
Despite the emergency declaration, banning gatherings of more than five people, thousands of pro-democracy activists came out on the streets of Bangkok to assemble in the busy shopping centre in the city on Thursday.
Ignoring warnings and appeals from the police to disperse, the protesters continued to demonstrate peacefully at the Ratchaprasong intersection, one of Bangkok’s busiest commercial areas, spreading out into nearby shopping areas.
The protesters have been demanding the removal of the prime minister, a reduction in the powers of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, and a new constitution which has a proper emphasis on civil rights and freedoms.
The announcement of an emergency, signed by the prime minister and former general Prayut Chan-o-cha, reflects fears that protesters intended to obstruct a planned movement of the royal motorcade, which is classed as a violation of the Public Assembly Law and the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand.
The statement noted that these attempts were affecting national security and safety, Covid-19 pandemic control measures and the nation’s vulnerable economic security, and described it as “extremely necessary for an urgent measure to be implemented in order to end the situation in an efficient and prompt manner”.
Protesters have accused the prime minister and former junta leader of manipulating elections last year to remain in power, and have been amassing in large numbers on the streets for several weeks.
They have adopted various references to popular culture, including the three-finger revolutionary salute used in the Hunger Games film series, which was again deployed on Wednesday when some protesters slowed a convoy of the Queen, Suthida.
Protesters have also previously dressed up as characters from Harry Potter and described the king as He Who Must Not Be Named, a reference to strict censorship laws banning public criticism of the monarchy.
Sunai Phasuk of the US-based group Human Rights Watch accused the government of again censoring coverage of the protest movement, and said international news channels have been banned in the country.
He tweeted that at least 20 people have been arrested after the crackdown on a democracy rally on Thursday morning, including the protest leaders Anon Nampa, Mike Rayong and Panusaya S. He said the police can detain them "without charge up to 30 days” and with “no lawyer access” under the emergency rules.
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