By THE NATION
CONSERVATIONISTS and local residents in southern Songkhla province gathered in front of the provincial court yesterday demanding the immediate release of 15 anti-coal-fired power plant protesters arrested on Monday as they attempted to submit a petition to Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha.
Only one 16-year-old protester was granted bail yesterday while the remaining 15 detained activists were charged with four criminal counts, denied bail and detained at the court.
NGO Coordinating Committee on Development president Banjong Nasae said yesterday the Songkhla Provincial Court had denied bail for the arrested activists, who were captured on Monday during a police crackdown on a march protesting the planned Thepa coal-fired power plant. As a result, the activists would spend at least 48 hours in detention at the court’s holding cells.
Meanwhile, the rest of the protesters gathered at Songkhla Provincial Court in a peaceful protest demanding the immediate release of the arrested activists. Social organisations nationwide also jointly condemned the arrests of the activists, issuing a statement demanding their release and the protection of freedom of expression.
Banjong said the protesters had peacefully marched demanding that their hometown be protected from a harmful project and had not exhibited any violent behaviour. They just wanted to meet Prayut and ask him to reconsider the project, he added.
“As the PM made it clear that he did not want to meet with his people, we read the open letter to the PM in front of Songkhla Provincial Court instead,” he said.
In the letter, Direk Hemnakhon, a leader of the group opposed to the project, asked the prime minister to cancel the project, as local people in Thepa district had suffered from an unfair planning process.
Project opponents were excluded from public participation, while the Environmental and Health Impact Assessment (EHIA) study had been poorly done and contained a lot of errors, the statement said.
Direk also said in the letter that more than 1,000 people would be evicted from their land if the project went forward, while the impacts from the plant would degrade the local environment, worsen climate change and harm people’s heath.
The Thepa coal-fired power plant is a new project advanced by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat), which will have a capacity to generate 2,200 megawatts of power from imported coal.
The project’s EHIA has already been approved by an expert committee of the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning (ONEP) but Egat has to submit a full report to ONEP for further consideration.
Provincial Police Regional 9 acting commander Pol Lt-General Ronnasin Phusara said the 16 prominent activists in police custody had been arrested on four charges relating to staging a protest without permission. The four charges against them are obstructing traffic, closing a road and behaving in a way that could damage vehicles, fighting police officers or obstructing police duties, and bringing weapons into a public area. The objects described as weapons were wooden flagpoles.
He added that police had performed their operation based on official procedures and politely asked protest leaders to stop the demonstration before they were forced to take forceful action to break it up.
However, Banjong said protesters had asked for permission from the police to stage a demonstration and their request had been approved. He also said protesters had a written reply from police as evidence.
Meanwhile, Prayut, who was still in the South for a Cabinet meeting yesterday, said protesters had broken the law because they had harmed police officers, adding that the crackdown on the demonstration and arrest of the protest leaders were not the violations of human rights.
He said protesters could not raise the principle of human rights as a protection because the law did not allow gatherings of more than five people in public for political purposes.
He also accused demonstrators of carrying out a political protest, which is forbidden by the law and an NCPO order, while he could charge protesters with another offence for violating the Public Gathering Act.
The prime minister also said he suspected that protesters had a political agenda, as they declined to submit their appeal to government representatives and insisted on meeting him in person. He said that insistence would drag out the conflict.