For the first time in the city’s history, Bangkok governor Chadchart Sittipunt has designated locations for public gatherings, bringing joy to political activists planning protests but causing concern among many residents and officials.
He issued the unprecedented order last Friday (June 24), just days after a group of hardline anti-government protesters known as Thalu Gas resumed their fiery protests at Din Daeng intersection in the north of the city.
Citing his authority under the Public Assembly Act, the governor named seven sites under the control of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) where demonstrations and other public gatherings would be permitted.
They are Lan Khon Muang ground in front of the City Hall in Phra Nakhon district, the Thai-Japanese Youth Centre in Din Daeng district, the area beneath Ratchavibha Bridge (near Soi Vibhavadi Rangsit 36) in Chatuchak district, the car park in front of the Phra Khanong District Office, the 72nd Anniversary Stadium in Min Buri district, Chalerm Phrakiat Stadium in Thung Khru district, and Monthon Phirom Park in Taling Chan district.
What the law says
The Public Assembly Act allows any state agency to provide specific places for public gatherings, although this provision does not affect people’s right to gather elsewhere.
Under the law, organizers must notify authorities at least 24 hours in advance of any gathering and can be fined up to 10,000 baht if they fail to do so.
No public gatherings are allowed within 150 meters of the Grand Palace, royal palace, residence of a royal family member, or royal visits. Public assembly is also prohibited near the National Assembly, Government House, and courts of law, including the military court. Violators risk up to six months in jail and/or a maximum fine of 10,000 baht.
However, assembly within universities and other educational institutions is allowed, and the law does not apply to gatherings for entertainment, sport or tourism promotion events, or any other activity held for commercial purposes.
Chadchart said the protest venues will be trialed for one month before being rolled out for all 50 Bangkok districts “if things go well”.
His move has received a mixed reaction from Bangkok residents. Political activists have voiced satisfaction at being handed public spaces to air their grievances, though some have called for more places to hold demonstrations.
However, many Bangkok residents expressed concern that certain designated locations are too close to residential areas or main roads. They warned that without proper safety measures, protesters could cause severe traffic jams or disturbance to communities nearby.
Chadchart said he was aware of the concerns and admitted he “felt anxious and prayed for no incidents” when the first protest under his new policy was held at the City Hall square outside his office on Friday evening.
That day (June 24) saw the anti-establishment Ratsadon group and their allies mark the 90th anniversary of the 1932 Siamese Revolution, which brought an end to absolute monarchy in Thailand. The protest passed off without incident.
Most popular site?
The City Hall square appears likely to become a favorite site for protesters. Red-shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan, in his capacity as chairman of the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship, plans a rally there on Sunday (July 3)against the government over its failure to curb rising fuel prices.
Meanwhile, Democracy Restoration Group’s Chonticha Jaengrew said that of the seven designated locations for protest, only the City Hall square “can actually be used”, since the others were “difficult to access” or “unhelpful” for that purpose.
Former yellow-shirt leader Suriyasai Katasila, who is now the dean of Rangsit University’s College of Social Innovation, agreed that Lan Khon Muang would be the most popular site for protest organizers, due to its proximity to the City Hall and Government House.
He said the Thai-Japanese Youth Centre would be the other location of choice for protest organizers, citing its proximity to the city center and key government agencies. The other five locations were “too far away or too small”, said Suriyasai, a former leader of the People’s Alliance for Democracy.
By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk