PM steps up anti-protest rhetoric

PM steps up anti-protest rhetoric

Activists won't be moved, he tells envoys

The prime minister's speech for International Human Rights Day also introduced the latest National Agenda and Thailand 4.0. (Photo via Government House)
The prime minister's speech for International Human Rights Day also introduced the latest National Agenda and Thailand 4.0. (Photo via Government House)

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha told a gathering of foreign diplomats and dignitaries on Monday that recent political activities in the country have been mired in ill intentions.

During his keynote speech "Human Rights and Thailand 4.0 toward Sustainable Development", the premier said the government has already relaxed regulations but some political groups have nefarious objectives.

"They come out every day. They are arrested and released, but they keep coming back. The authorities relaxed the rules in some cases but this shows they have other purposes, impure purposes," he said.

The forum was attended by more than 300 people, including foreign diplomats and UN representatives, none of whom were willing to comment on the premier's remarks on the protesters. His comments came amid signs of rising opposition to his government as pro-election demonstrations have been gathering momentum.

In late January, about 100 people converged at the skywalk near the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre in Bangkok's Pathumwan district to express their outrage over the possible 90-day delay of the general election. The National Legislative Assembly (NLA) voted days earlier to pass an organic bill on MP elections that may push back the election, which was promised by Gen Prayut for November, to February next year.

The pro-election demonstrators want the government to keep its promise to hold the poll this year.

Last Saturday, about 500 activists gathered near the Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue to step up the pressure and vowed to keep holding rallies until a general election is held.

According to Gen Prayut, political activities take place on a regular basis and laws must be enforced otherwise the situation could get out of hand. The premier said the country still faces political problems and offences are being committed for political purposes.

He assured the government remains committed to defending and promoting human rights to boost credibility in the international community and public confidence in the country. The prime minister added the people should also be made aware of their rights and duties including respect for the law and they must refrain from infringing upon other people's rights.

Gen Prayut said that while the 2017 constitution acknowledges protection of human rights and freedom, there are other laws that must be carefully studied and complied with otherwise conflicts will arise as a result.

He said the law should not be exploited to create conflicts, mistrust or unrest, noting the public and state authorities must make a concerted effort to prevent conflicts.

Gen Prayut also took the opportunity to declare the protection of human rights as a national agenda item in a bid to drive national development and reduce disparity and inequality.

The premier said human rights violations have taken place in the country but insisted the government was committed to stamping out such violations.

He said the government has never resorted to torture as some people have alleged because it is illegal. However, he said government officials accused of abuse will face investigation and punishment if they are found in the wrong.

US embassy spokesman Stephane Castonguay said a senior embassy official was one of many diplomats in attendance at the discussion on human rights.

"We appreciated the prime minister and foreign minister's emphasis that the government is committed to complying with Thailand's human rights obligations under the international conventions and agreements to which Thailand is a party," he said.

Reacting to Gen Prayut's speech, EU Ambassador Pirkka Tapiola said, "Alongside the ambassadors of EU member states, I was glad to attend the prime minister's announcement of the national agenda on human rights as a driving force of Thailand 4.0.

"The EU places great importance on the promotion and protection of human rights all over the world and we are always encouraged when our partners commit to upholding these universal principles. We will continue to engage with Thailand on this and other matters of mutual interest on the basis of the council conclusions adopted by EU foreign ministers on Dec 11, 2017."

Also on Monday, Meechai Ruchupan, chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC), allayed concerns that the NLA would vote down poll-related bills on the election of senators and MPs.

He said the CDC has forwarded its objections to the changes made by the NLA to force a reconsideration and was certain the NLA members would listen.

Political observers expressed concern the NLA might shoot down the bills, which would prompt the CDC to draft new ones and further delay the poll.

"Don't speculate or guess. I believe a joint committee can work things out," he said.

A joint committee by the CDC, the NLA and the Election Commission is likely to be set up after the CDC and the EC filed notice of opposition to the two draft laws approved by the NLA. The panel has 15 days to reach a conclusion.

Mr Meechai said that if the bills are to be rewritten, the process will take a few days because there are a few contentious points.

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