King returns to roiling protests . . .
Thailand has seen months of unrest, with protesters demanding the resignation of current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a reform of the monarchy, and a rewriting of the Constitution. This week, King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s return from Germany sparked an escalation of pro-democracy demonstrations. Protesters gathered in Bangkok on Wednesday, marching from the Democracy Monument to the Government House. When the royal motorcade passed through the march, protesters held up three-finger salutes. This salute – a recognized symbol of the protests – is connected to the novel and movie series, The Hunger Games, and represents resistance to the ruling government.
Water cannons, tear gas, and arrests . . .
After the motorcade interruption, the Prime Minister declared a state of emergency. Authorities said the protesters’ conduct during the royal motorcade was “violent” and “affected state security.” The new emergency measures prevent any gathering of over five people and forbid the “publication of news [and] other media” that “affect national security or peace and order.” Despite the ban against gatherings, protests continued on Thursday and Friday. On Friday, Thai police resorted to force, using water cannons with “stinging liquid” and tear gas against demonstrators. Since the implementation of emergency measures, it is estimated that 51 protestors have been arrested. Protests are expected to continue throughout the weekend.
Impacts on the right to peaceful protest . . .
Amnesty International stated that these emergency measures are “the latest escalation in Thailand’s current onslaught on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.” In a country where criticizing the King can lead to up to 15 years imprisonment, these protests are significant and mark the monarchy’s largest-ever challenge. Until this week, there had been no government response to the protests, likely due to the Thai government’s recent struggles, including the economic strain caused by COVID-19. The new emergency measures and the force used in quelling the protests mark a stark turning point, and the next few weeks will be crucial in determining the future of this country of nearly 70 million people.