Four protest leaders have been jailed since February 9th when they were refused bail on sedition and lèse-majesté charges. They are the focus of an increasingly tense political standoff between the government and the student protest movement still resolutely pursuing its calls for the government to go and for sweeping democratic reform of the constitution and monarchy in Thailand.
A police force of up to 5,000 officers was preparing to hold the line and keep the peace in Bangkok on Saturday as no less than 4 protests descended on Thailand’s capital city despite being outlawed by the country’s emergency decree to combat the Covid-19 virus. The groups are aligned with the student-led protests that have been ongoing since July last year calling for the ouster of the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha as well as reform of the constitution and the monarchy. The groups are also calling for the release of four key protest leaders held in prison since being denied bail on February 9th last.
There was palpable tension in Bangkok on Saturday as four protest groups descended on the capital city. It follows an announcement in the Royal Gazette on Friday which specifically made the gatherings illegal under the emergency decree and efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19.
The outburst of violence in a protest last Sunday in which protesters used slingshots to fire stones at police lines and threw explosive fireworks leading to retaliation with the use of rubber bullets, has caused tensions between authorities and the protest movement to soar.
Increasing significance of 4 jailed protest leaders
The increasing significance of the 4 key protest leaders Parit Chiwarak, Arnon Nampa, Patiwat Saraiyaem and Somyot Prueksakasemsuk jailed after being denied bail on lèse-majesté charges on February 9th last and the act of arson committed by Thai music star ‘Ammy The Bottom Blues’ on a portrait of the Thai monarch outside Klongprem Central Prison last Sunday have added to concerns which are being expressed by leaders on both sides of the political divide in Thailand.
The four leaders have been denied bail in successive court hearings since the court affirmed that the four represented a flight risk and have shown a strong propensity to re-offend by committing the same criminal acts.
Up to 5,000 police officers being deployed as Police Commissioner says Saturday’s protests are illegal
On Saturday, the National Police Commissioner, Police General Suwat Jang yod suk, revealed plans to deploy up to 5,000 officers in the city to deal with the four events.
The top police officer who personally took part in last Sunday’s operation outside the compound of the 1st Infantry Regiment on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road in Bangkok and who vigorously defended the actions of his officers this week, has pointed out that all four rallies are illegal under the emergency decree.
Main concern is the protest outside the Criminal Court
The four groups protesting are gathering at different parts of the city.
They are ‘Redem’ which was the main concern of police on Saturday according to the Metropolitan Police Bureau Chief, Police Lieutenant General Pakkapong Pongpetra.
That group is thought to be gathering outside the Criminal Court in Bangkok where some additional barriers have been set up including razor wire.
However, the senior officer emphasised the need for police to stay calm and show restraint where possible.
‘Riot police have been instructed to strictly follow crowd-control measures and not to take any excessive action that is beyond the scope of the law,’ Police Lieutenant General Pakkapong disclosed.
Group who have marched 248 km from Nakhon Ratchasima seeking the release of key protest leaders
The other groups converging at points in the city are the ‘People Go Network’ which is a group calling for the release of the 4 key protest leaders. They set off from Nakhon Ratchasima on February 16th last on a 248 km trek to Bangkok.
The group is led by Jatupat Boonpattararaksa also known as Pai Dao Din who was jailed previously under the lèse-majesté legal provision contained in Article 112 of the Criminal Code.
His followers are to meet at the Zeer Rangsit market in the city and march to Kasetsart University.
The third gathering will be held by ‘Archeewa Mai Ao Phadet Kan’, a group representing vocational students calling for more democracy who will converge on Democracy Monument near Ratchadamnoen Road.
The fourth group is ‘Ploy Pheun Rao’ meaning ‘Release our Friends’ which is due to march on the Bang Khen district of Bangkok.
Veteran street protester expresses concern at leadership seen at these protests and warns of danger
It comes as Jatuporn Promphan, a veteran of street protests and the Chairman of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, has warned the nature of these protests with fluid leadership, makes them vulnerable to being uncontrollable.
Mr Jatuporn has, since last year, consistently warned of the radical nature of these student-led protests.
He has disagreed with linking the protests to commentary on the monarchy and has advocated that the movement should focus their campaign on opposing the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha.
Policeman with the virus at last Sunday’s clash
The threat from the rallies to efforts to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus was also highlighted by authorities in recent days when it was revealed that a police officer who took part in last Sunday’s riots, tested positive for Covid-19.
Police Senior Sergeant Major Somyot Nuamcharoen had picked up the virus before Sunday’s riot while visiting Samut Sakhon, an investigation later discerned.
Arrest of a man with homemade guns and bombs
Fears were also stoked on Friday when police arrested a 43-year-old man driving an SUV on the motorway near the Pathumwan intersection in Bangkok.
The man named as Pichet Khunkamhaeng was stopped after he was observed driving erratically.
Inside his vehicle officers found improvised explosive devices, homemade handguns and a scope. He was taken to Pathumwan Police Station for questioning.
Officers say the arrested man was incoherent when questioned leading them to examine the possibility he may have mental health issues.
They have provisionally formed the view that his actions were not politically motivated.