Thai authorities crackdown on dozens of Chana protesters

Dozens of protesters from the Chana Rakthin Network were charged with violating the emergency decree for protesting near the entrance of Government House last night.

Police detained at least 37 protesters, including 31 women and six men. 

“They have been charged with the violation of the emergency decree and the police are looking to file more charges against them since the protesters are not willing to accept the proposal for them to stop protesting against the project if they were to be released,” Pranom Somwong, Protection International Representative in Thailand, told Thai Enquirer on Tuesday.

Although the protest on Monday was peaceful, police cited possible security concerns and moved in to arrest the group at around 8:30 p.m last night. The police also blocked off members of the press from documenting the crackdown.

Violations of the emergency decree are punishable by up to two years in prison and/or a maximum fine of 40,000 baht.

The protesters demand that the government adhere to initial promises to delay an industrial project set to take place in the 16,700-rai Chana district in southeastern Songkhla.

The demonstrators say the government must hold off until a strategic environmental assessment led by a neutral party is conducted. Local residents worry that the industrial project could pollute the land and effectively devastate countless livelihoods. 

On Monday, around 50 villagers from the Chana district in Songkhla, mostly women and elderly people, arrived to set up a protest site near one of the entrances of Government House in Bangkok in the afternoon.

The Chana Rakthin Network is concerned that there has been no sign that the government will fulfill its promises. There has yet to be a neutral assessment even a year after the agreement.

“There was no need for the police to make the arrests at that time last night since the protest was peaceful,” Pranom said.  “And they have also used excessive force with many officers on-site and used unnecessary deployment of crowd control police who were equipped with shields and batons.”

Yet the authorities argue that the protest site was too close to the entrance of Government House. Pranom said that it’s an invalid excuse.

As a legal expert, she claims the police are only supposed to help facilitate peaceful protests by providing protection. “But they have chosen to crackdown on the peaceful protesters instead,” she said.   

In recent months, the government made changes to the city plan and conducted four different environmental impact studies on their own without consulting the local community.

Members of Chana Rakthin Network say this was against a memorandum of understanding that was signed on December 15, 2020.

Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-ocha said on Tuesday the police had to arrest the protesters because the protest site was not 150 meters away from the Government House which is apparently against the law.

He denied that there was an agreement with the protesters, despite a signed MoU by then deputy minister of agriculture, Thamanat Prompow.

Prayut also noted that he had instructed the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre and Prime Minister’s Office Minister, Anucha Nakasai, to oversee the next period of negotiation with the protesters. 

Rangsiman Rome, a list-MP from the Move Forward Party who is helping bail out the 37 detainees, told Thai Enquirer on Tuesday that the protesters will be temporarily released with the condition that they do not come out and protest again.

“The government promised the villagers that they will fix this problem since last year, but there was no progress whatsoever,” he said.

“Last week there was only one protester from the Chana district, and the government had failed to pay attention to her which prompted the villagers to escalate their protest,” Rangsiman added.

He said the government’s response was alarming, noting a contradiction where they were too slow to react to the demands of the protesters, yet were swift to take action against those protesting at Government House.

“The use of law in this way will only make things worse,” Rangsiman said. “The government should go back to negotiating with the protesters and find a mutual way out, instead of prosecuting these villagers who are simply protesting to protect their homeland.”

Photo via Protect the South on Twitter

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