ICJ welcomes revocation of problematic ‘serious emergency’ decree and calls for more guarantees from the government

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) in a briefing paper published on Tuesday expressed concerns that while the Prayut administration made the right move in lifting the Serious Emergency Situation in Bangkok, existing emergency laws within the country remain problematic.

While the government decided to lift its emergency situation on October 22, a week after it was declared on October 15, the fact that there was even an emergency decree prosecuting peaceful protesters was an issue, according to the ICJ.

“The ICJ welcomed the Thai government’s decision on 22 October 2020 to lift the Serious Emergency Situation in Bangkok but said the longstanding Emergency Decree of 2005 and emergency measures taken recently are non-compliant with Thailand’s international human rights obligations,” the ICJ said.

During the peaceful, pro-democracy protests that took place in Bangkok between October 13 and 22 2020, at least 90 people, including protest leaders and journalists, have reportedly been arrested for violating the emergency decree.

The legal briefing focuses on four primary areas of concern, including:

  • The emergency power
  • The limited scrutiny by the courts
  • Legal immunity from prosecution
  • Emergency decree measures

The ICJ concluded that the arrest and prosecution of peaceful protesters under the name of the Serious Emergency Decree imposed remains problematic and noncompliant to international human rights standards. 

“Thailand should remove the criminal liability for the protesters who are prosecuted or at risk of prosecution under the Emergency Decree for merely exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly as guaranteed under international and Thai law,” the briefing said. 

It also urged the state to ensure that “affected populations shall have access to judicial remedies in respect of alleged violations under the emergency laws.”

Background

Thailand has been and is still under a nationwide state of emergency as part of the COVID-19 restrictions this year. 

On October 15, 2020, embattled Prime Minister of Thailand Prayut Chan-ocha invoked a separate Emergency Decree, declaring a “serious emergency situation” in Bangkok as a response to the pro-democracy, anti-government protests that took place between October 13 and 15 2020. 

Since July, hundreds of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in Thailand — mainly its capital of Bangkok — to call for the Prime Minister’s resignation, Constitutional amendment, and for a reform of the monarchy.

The Prime Minister has cited the reasons for declaring the serious emergency situation as essential in ending the situation in an “efficient and prompt manner, to ensure compliance with the law and to sustain national order and public interest.”

The new law prohibited any gathering of five or more people and dissemination of publications or any means of information that could distort or create fear and anxiety among the population. Officials, who may not directly be law enforcement officials, are authorised to arrest, detain, and exercise power over people suspected to have a role in instigating or violating the new decree.

On October 16, the That riot police fired water cannons, including chemically infused teargases into the crowd of protesters in downtown Bangkok as a means to disperse the peaceful demonstration. 

“The Decree has been used to impose a blanket restriction on freedom of expression and assembly by imposing a general ban on peaceful public demonstrations,” the ICJ concluded.

The International Commission of Jurists is an international human rights non-governmental organization. It is a standing group of 60 eminent jurists—including senior judges, attorneys, and academics—who work to develop national and international human rights standards through the law.

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