EARTH Thailand

Govt cracks down on power-plant protesters


POLICE cracked down on the protest outside Government House yesterday over the move to build a coal-fired power plant in Krabi, arresting 16 protesters including three leaders of the demonstration.

Legal experts condemned the move, saying it was a severe violation of the protesters’ rights and demanded that they be released immediately.

The NGO Coordinating Committee on Development, in its statement, demanded that the protesters be released immediately and without conditions. 

It also called on the government to review the National Energy Policy Committee decision to go ahead with the plan to build a coal-fired power plant in Krabi. It urged the government to stop using coal for energy in Thailand.

Environmental groups started the prolonged protest in Bangkok on Friday to oppose the prime minister’s decision to go ahead with the coal-power plant in Krabi and invited people affected by the government’s policies from nationwide to join their campaign. 

Police conducted several raids on the protest yesterday and captured many protesters, including all leaders of the rally. Officials said they were acting with authority under the absolute power of Article 44 in the interim charter.

As of the press time, five key members of the protest – Prasitchai Nu-nuan, Akkaradej Chakchinda, ML Rungkun Kitiyakara, Banjong Nasae, and Thatchapong Kaedam – were detained at the 11th Military Circle, an Army base in Bangkok. 

The rest of the protesters who were arrested were taken to the Patrol and Special Operation Division. None were allowed to meet their lawyers or family members.

Surachai Trongngam, secretary-general of the EnLAW Foundation and legal adviser for the protesters, said the officers’ action violated basic human rights and it was a misuse of power.

“I have tried to visit the protesters, who are detained at Military Circle 11. But my request was turned down, as the military officers argued that these protesters were arrested under the power of Article 44 of the interim charter, and therefore visitors were not allowed,” Surachai said. He will try again to see them today. 

“They [the military personnel] did not specify the exact order, but it is very likely that the officers are exercising the power of National Council for Peace and Order [NCPO] order 3/2558, which allows officers to detain suspects without any charge for seven days.”

He said this was a misuse of power to violate the rights of people, because all citizens have the right to stage a peaceful protest. So, an exercise of power like this would also infringe on the principle of the rule of law.

Maha Sarakham University lecturer Chainarong Sretthachau also said that use of absolute power to crack down on peaceful protesters was a violation of human rights, because the Thai government had ratified international agreements. 

He urged the government to release all protesters immediately. 

Meanwhile, Government Spokesman Lt-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd said the police had to crack down on the protesters, as they had gathered at a forbidden area at Government House and did not follow officers’ orders. They had violated the Public Assembly Act.

“The arrest of the three protest leaders complies with the law, because the police asked the protesters to stop the protest in the forbidden area. But they did not listen, [and] threatened the officers, and even urged more people to join their protest,” Sansern said.

“The Public Assembly Act clearly states that protesters must follow the rules and that Government House is not an area where protests are allowed. So we had to stop the protest by asking the Civil Court for an order to do that.” He urged protesters to consider the country’s future and benefits for the majority of people, as the new power plant would ensure power stability and “many people” wanted the coal-fired power plant to go ahead in Krabi.

However, Surachai argued that the authorities did not follow lawful means in dealing with the protest, as officers used force to crack down on the protesters, despite having already asked the Civil Court to judge whether the protest could continue or not.

“The protesters are ready to fight in the court and right now we are considering what to do next to help the protesters who were captured, and defend our right to peacefully demonstrate,” he said.

A representative of the protesters, Supaporn Malailoi, said currently the remaining protesters still had good morale and insisted on carrying on their campaign at Government House. In the meantime, more people were travelling from the South to join the protest in Bangkok.

“All of us insist on continuing the protest and we demand that the government release all our companions immediately,” Supaporn said.

Environmental groups and rights protection organisations released a statement supporting the campaign against the coal power plant. As of yesterday, at least 27 organisations had urged the government to reconsider its approval for the Krabi project. They also asked for the immediate release of the protesters.