[Update-1] Rights groups question Thailand’s State of Emergency extension; PM defends it as necessary

International rights groups are questioning the Thai government’s decision to extend the State of Emergency Act until the end of July, a decision which was approved by the cabinet on Tuesday.

The government said that the SOE needed to be extended because it gave the government more weapons to fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

The government said that it can control the movement of people coming in and out of the country and establish state quarantine measures to limit the spread of the virus.

The SOE also makes integration between different government agencies much easier, according to the government’s emergency response center.

The Prime Minister said in a press conference on Tuesday that the SOE was in place to ensure the safety of all Thais and that it was not there to restrict any rights.

“If you want to protest, then just ask for our permission,” he told reporters. “We are not here to stop anything but to take care of the citizens.”

The prime minister did not take questions after his press conference.

Rights groups

Rights groups have been asking if the extension of the SOE was necessary and whether the extension constitutes a violation of the rights and liberties of the Thai people.

Article 19, a nonprofit British human rights organization released a statement this week questioning the move.

“Emergency measures adopted to combat the COVID-19 pandemic have been repeatedly used by Thai authorities to target government critics and peaceful protesters,” said ARTICLE 19 in its statement.

“As the virus has receded in Thailand, authorities have ratcheted up the pressure on student activists and government critics,” said Matthew Bugher, Article 19’s Head of Asia Programme. “Measures ostensibly aimed at protecting the Thai people from a public health threat are being used to harass and obstruct peaceful protesters calling for justice and accountability.”

Article 19 highlighted the government’s persecution of student activists under the guise of the SOE as one of its main concerns.

“The government is giving Thais the green light to pile on to crowded trains and spend Sunday afternoons at the mall, while at the same time charging activists that gather in far smaller numbers,” said Matthew Bugher.

“The danger to protesters in Thailand is not COVID-19, but a government intent on silencing its critics.”

The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, a group representing lawmakers from ASEAN committed to promoting rights, also voiced their concern about the extension of the SOE.

“There is clearly no reason anymore for the government to justify emergency powers,” said APHR member Maria Chin Abdullah.

“It seems clear that any decision to extend again the emergency powers isn’t being made in the interests of public health and safety but is instead an excuse to prevent protests from starting and the student movement from resuming.”

Students and opposition

Student protest leaders and an opposition MP also told Thai Enquirer that they did not believe that an extension of the SOE was warranted.

“I think that it is not necessary now because for the past 30 days there have been only infections coming from abroad,” said Taopiphop Lim, a Move Forward MP. “This shows that it is under control and there is no need for the [SOE]. State mechanisms are able to function very well.”

Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, a prominent student activist studying at Chulalongkorn University, told Thai Enquirer that he felt the SOE was no longer necessary.

“Besides controlling the protest, the government is extending the SOE to do things without being scrutinized. Even people that protest about Wanchalearm are said to violate the SOE. It gives the state legal grounds to [harass] people,” he said.

Police used the SOE act to threaten protesters with arrest last week after they had gathered to commemorate the 1932 Siamese Revolution

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