Bill to curb rallies passes first hurdle

Bill to curb rallies passes first hurdle

Legislation limits sites allowed for protests

The National Legislative Assembly (NLA) yesterday passed in its first reading a bill which would empower the authorities to control public gatherings. 

The NLA members voted 182-0 in favour of the bill, with four abstentions, paving the way for a 22-member sub-panel to deliberate it within 30 days. 

Speaking at the NLA meeting before the vote, Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon argued the bill would help maintain national security and establish clear guidelines for public gatherings. He said they would comply with international practices in regard to citizen and political rights. 

In the bill's general section, a gathering must not be held within a 150m radius of the Grand Palace, palaces and the residences of royal guests. 

Under the bill, gatherings must not be held at parliament, Government House or court houses unless designated areas are set aside at these premises, Gen Prawit said. 

Rallies must not disrupt the operation and service or block the entrance or the exit of state agencies, airports, ports, train stations, public transport terminals, hospitals, education institutes, religious sites, embassies, consulates, international organisations and other places issued in ministerial announcements. 

To ensure safety, the national police chief or an assigned person has the authority to ban gatherings within a 50m radius of places stipulated in the bill. 

The organisers of public gatherings must inform authorities at least 24 hours before the assemblies take place. They also have to declare the purpose, date, time frame and place of their rallies. 

Authorities can forbid assemblies if they consider organisers are failing to comply with the law. The ban order will be sent to rally organisers, who can still appeal it. 

There must be no speeches or other activities with the use of loud speakers between midnight and 6am during a rally. Demonstrators will be banned from moving rally locations between 6pm and 6am, except when approved to do so. 

Those who gather in prohibited areas or violate the ban would face up to six months in jail or a fine of up to 10,000 baht, or both. 

The holders of gatherings which disrupt public transport, telecommunications, water and power supplies and other utilities would face up to 10 years behind bars or a fine of up to 200,000 baht, or both.

Unauthorised people who carry weapons at a rally site would face a three-year jail term or a fine of 60,000 baht. Anyone with firearms or explosive devices at a protest would face five years in jail or a fine of 100,000 baht.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam insisted the bill does not force demonstrators to seek approval for a rally, but only to inform authorities beforehand. Local administration offices countrywide are also encouraged to set aside designated areas for assemblies.

The legislation would also ensure the freedom and rights of people as the authorities will not be able to disperse a rally. If there is a need to disperse rallies, the authorities must petition the court to approve the dispersal, Mr Visanu said.

The bill will not affect rallies by company workers, religious demonstrations or gatherings inside educational facilities.

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