Caution urged on assembly bill

Caution urged on assembly bill

 A law lecturer yesterday called on the police not to rush a bill designed to control public gatherings, saying more public input is needed.

Associate Professor Somchai Preechasilapakul, a law lecturer from Chiang Mai University, said the proposed legislation involves civil rights and should not be rushed while the country remains under martial law.

He said that with martial law in effect, members of the public may feel uncomfortable about giving their views on the bill.

Assoc Prof Somchai was speaking at a seminar hosted by the Royal Thai Police to solicit public opinions on the measure.

The bill is modelled upon a version that passed its third reading in parliament under the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration three years ago but failed to reach the Senate.

Human rights advocates have expressed concern the bill could breach the right to conduct peaceful assembly. At issue is a clause that requires people who plan to gather in public to inform authorities at least 24 hours in advance.

The bill has five chapters with 38 sections. One controversial clause says groups which plan a rally are required to inform police 24 hours ahead of the event so preparations can be made to provide security and manage traffic.

Those who fail to comply are subject to a six-month prison term and/or a fine of 1,000 baht.

If the gatherings disrupt public transport or utilities or cause damage to the economy, offenders are liable to jail for two to four years, and/or a fine of 40,000-200,000 baht.

The bill also imposes conditions on public gatherings: They must not disrupt the work of state agencies including airports, train stations, bus terminals, hospitals, schools, embassies and religious establishments; rallies cannot be held between 10pm and 6am; and marches are not allowed during the day.

The bill indicates authorities can order an end to the gatherings if they violate those conditions or disrupt peace and order.

If the protesters fail to comply, authorities can arrest them, seize their belongings or dismantle structures used in public gatherings.

Section 28 says state officers who are authorised to control the situation and do so by following proper procedures are exempt from criminal and civil lawsuits and disciplinary action.

However, those who are affected by improper operations can file for compensation under the law on state liability.

Pol Lt Gen Amnat An-art-ngam, assistant national police chief and head of the drafting panel, insisted the bill was written under the framework of civil liberties.

He said Wednesday the clause that requires those who wish to gather in public to notify authorities was not about "asking for permission".

He said the bill would be tabled for public opinion before its submission to the National Legislative Assembly for consideration.

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