Thailand forced by court to rescind ‘public fear’ order

Government had been accused of stifling criticism of its handling of Covid pandemic

Pro-democracy protesters rally in front of the Sino-Thai building on Tuesday in Bangkok. Photograph:  Lauren DeCicca/Getty Image)

Pro-democracy protesters rally in front of the Sino-Thai building on Tuesday in Bangkok. Photograph: Lauren DeCicca/Getty Image)

 

The Thai government has been forced by a court injunction to rescind an order banning news that “causes public fear”, as it faces growing protests over its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The government, which had sought to restrict news that causes public fear, even if it is true, had been accused by journalists and human rights groups of trying to prevent negative reporting and silence critics. The civil court issued an injunction against the regulation last week and it was revoked on Tuesday.

Thai officials are facing increasing public anger over their response to a recent wave of Covid-19, including over the country’s slow vaccination campaign. Protesters took to the streets over the weekend and again on Tuesday, with police firing rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon to disperse them.

Thousands had gathered for Tuesday’s “car mob” protest in Bangkok, where they drove cars and motorbikes through the city, stopping at buildings associated with government figures to condemn their management of the pandemic. Organisers believed the style of protest would reduce the risk of Covid-19 spreading.

Gatherings of more than five people are banned, and a 9pm curfew is in place in Bangkok and many other provinces.

Police fire water cannon at pro-democracy protesters in Bangkok on Tuesday. Photograph: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP via Getty Images
Police fire water cannon at pro-democracy protesters in Bangkok on Tuesday. Photograph: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP via Getty Images

Police said demonstrators had violated emergency laws by holding a rally, and that nine officers were injured when clashes broke out, including one officer who was shot in the leg. Two police booths were also set alight, police said. A total of 48 people were detained, and more than 100 motorbikes were impounded.

It is not clear how many protesters were injured.

Prior to Tuesday’s rally, police detained several key activists who led mass protests last year calling for reform of the monarchy – an institution protected by a draconian lese majesty law and which has long been considered beyond criticism. Among those arrested were Parit Chiwarak, who is known by the nickname Penguin, Panupon Jadnok, known as Mike Rayong, Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, known as Pai, and Anon Nampa.

Anti-establishment protests had fallen in number since 2020, partly due to fatigue among demonstrators and fresh outbreaks of Covid-19. However, the latest wave of infections, which began in April and is the most severe Thailand has experienced since the start of the pandemic, has fuelled fresh public anger. Celebrities and even former supporters of the government have criticised its sluggish vaccination campaign. About 6 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated.

The outbreak, driven by the Delta variant, has led to more than 6,500 deaths and has put hospitals under severe pressure.

A further protest has been called for Wednesday. Kissana Phathanacharoen, a deputy spokesman for the Royal Thai Police, said legal action would be taken against people who took part in violent incidents on Tuesday, as well as “fake news producers and those who share false information”. – Guardian