Four political rallies were taking place in Bangkok on Saturday afternoon and evening despite a fresh announcement by authorities banning gatherings.
Gen Charlempol Srisawat, the commander of the Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters who was assigned to handle security-related emergencies, issued the announcement banning assemblies in order to reduce Covid risk, effective on Friday.
Those convicted of violating the order could face up to two years in prison and/or a fine of up to 40,000 baht.
The announcement, published in the Royal Gazette on Friday, came hours ahead of the planned protests, three of which were being held by groups allied with the pro-democracy Ratsadon group. The fourth rally was being staged by supporters of the monarchy.
The announcement, more specific than previous order, named six provinces where the ban applies — Bangkok, Samut Prakan, Samut Songkhram, Nonthaburi, Nakhon Pathom and Pathum Thani.
The previous order applied the ban based on disease-control zones, which have changed as infection rates are declining in most places.
Pol Maj Gen Piya Tavichai, deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Bureau, told a news conference that police might not enforce the ban on gatherings immediately, so long as protesters were peaceful and did not trespass on or vandalise public or private properties.
He warned of harsher measures if protesters became unruly. The following is a summary of who went where:
In northern Bangkok, the “Dern Talu Fah” march of activists, including the People Go Network, arrived in the capital after setting off from Nakhon Ratchasima on Feb 16.
Jatupat “Pai Daodin” Boontararaksa, led the march under the banner of a group calling itself UNME of Anarchy.
The marchers’ goals are the resignation of Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha as prime minister, the rewriting of the constitution, the abolition of the royal defamation law, and the release of fellow activists who have been detained under Section 112.
The group arrived at the Zeer Rangsit flea market in the morning and made a few stops along the way including at one at the state-owned ThaiPBS TV station before settling in at the Kasetsart University campus where they plan to spend the night and have a few seminars.
On Sunday they intend to complete their 246-kilometre journey with a march to Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue.
No clashes have been reported although they were stopped briefly by crowd-control police who wouldn’t let them use Vibhavadi Rangsit Road. They reportedly sat down on the road in protest and officers finally allowed them to continue on the route.
Free Youth/REDEM: Criminal Court
In inner Bangkok, the REDEM (Restart Democracy) group asked its supporters to meet at the Lat Prao intersection at 5pm. The plan was to march to the Criminal Court building on Ratchaphisek Road at 6pm.
Demonstrators were asked to bring bags full of garbage to leave at the site. The rally is scheduled to end at 9pm.
While the meaning behind the activity was not explained — Thailand has a strict contempt of court law that appies outside courtrooms — activists and their supporters are not happy with repeated decisions by the court to deny bail for their detained co-leaders pending their trials for lese majeste and other charges.
The court cited their tendency to repeat the offence as one of the reasons, but the protesters say it goes against the principle of presumption of innocence.
The REDEM activity was the most closely watched, in light of the violence that broke out at the group’s rally last Sunday.
Ten protesters and 26 police officers were injured, with rubber bullets used for the first time, as well as tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters.
Piyarat “Toto” Chongthep, a leader of the WeVo guards, and three of his friends were taken by men who claimed to be plainclothes police on the second storey of the parking building at Major Ratchayothin at 6.40pm. A Facebook clip showed him saying they had no arrest warrant and he had done nothing wrong before it was cut.
Progressive Red: Lotus Rangsit-Government Complex
Also in northern Bangkok, a pro-democracy group under the Ratsadon umbrella calling itself Progressive Red met at the Lotus Rangsit store at 1pm.
They had planned to march to the 11th Infantry Regiment but later changed their destination to Building B at the Government Complex on Cheng Watthana Road.
They were stopped at 3pm by police who backed down a few minutes later. More crowd-control officers reinforced the existing team.
At the Big C Saphan Mai intersection, police formed a line blocking the protesters. They negotiated with the protesters to use Vibhvadi Ransgit Road instead of Phahon Yothin.
In the capital’s shopping district, royalist groups met near CentralWorld to demonstrate the solidarity of people seeking to protect the institution
They wore T-shirts bearing their groups’ symbols, with yellow the dominant colour. Many also tied ribbons in the colors of the national flag. Some wore green with a message saying they were independent defenders of the monarchy
A group calling themselves the Centre for Monarchy Defenders brought a vinyl banner with its symbol. On it was a signature which they claimed belongs to Her Majesty the Queen.
Many demonstrators claimed the burning of a royal portrait in front of Klong Prem Prison on Feb 28 was the last straw, according to BBC Thai.
They took turns reading statements, most of which contained warnings for those who wish the palace ill.
REDEM protesters on their way to the Criminal Court on Saturday. (Photo from FB Free Youth)