Hundreds of protesters gathered on Thursday in the Thai capital Bangkok calling for police to free arrested activists, defying emergency measures imposed earlier to quell a pro-democracy movement.
Thailand imposed “serious” emergency measures banning gatherings of more than four people in a bid to stop youth-led demonstrations that have been rocking the country since mid-July.
The protesters are calling for Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to step down, while some prominent activists have demanded reforms to the kingdom’s unassailable monarchy.
“Free our friends!” they chanted as they blocked off a major Bangkok intersection, watched on by hundreds of riot police.
Many held up a three-finger salute which has been harnessed as a symbol of the burgeoning movement.
Pro-democracy protesters show the three-finger salute as they gather demanding the government resign and release detained leaders in Bangkok, Thailand [Jorge Silva/Reuters]After the emergency measures were announced, police moved to disperse protesters – who stayed through the night outside the Government House – and arrested 22 activists.
The gathering comes the day after a tense anti-government rally saw thousands gather to call for reforms to the monarchy.
Videos shared widely on social media showed police protecting the royals’ yellow car as it moved through crowds of people holding their arms aloft in the three-finger salute.
“It is extremely necessary to introduce an urgent measure to end this situation effectively and promptly to maintain peace and order,” state television said.
The announcement was accompanied by a document setting out measures that took effect from 4am local time (21:00 GMT) banning large gatherings and allowing authorities to ban people from entering any area they designate.
The emergency decree gives authorities powers to arrest protesters without warrants, and also to seize “electronic communications equipment, data and weapons” suspected to be linked to the move.
Online messages that “threaten national security” are also banned.
Fear of arrests
Campaign group Amnesty International said the measures against demonstrations were unjustified and would sow fear.
“This vague, drastic order will lead to more people unfairly arrested, detained and prosecuted,” said Amnesty’s Ming Yu Hah in a statement.
Police said they had arrested protest leaders Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak and rights lawyer Arnon Nampa. Arnon said on Facebook he was being forced to board a helicopter to the northern city of Chiang Mai, where he faces sedition charges over a speech in August.
Pictures on social media later showed student leader Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul being taken away in a wheelchair as she gave the three-finger salute.
“We haven’t been able to restore a true democracy yet,” said 54-year-old Sun Pathong, a veteran of a decade of anti-establishment protests and counterprotests before the 2014 coup.
“I’ll be back. We have to continue the fight even if we risk our lives.”