By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
THE SUNDAY NATION
The human rights campaigners of the “We Walk” long march may have won a legal battle for the rest of their protest, but it is still not a guaranteed protection against the National Council for Peace and Order’s (NCPO) ban on political demonstration.
The Administrative Court issued an order on Friday night granting legal protection for the People GO Network to continue their long march from Thammasat University to Khon Kaen and also ordered the police to perform their duty according to the Public Gathering Act to provide the security the demonstrators needed until the march ends on February 17.
Environmental Litigation and Advocacy for Wants Foundation (EnLaw) secretary-general Surachai Throngngam said yesterday that the court order helped to reduce pressure on the campaigners, as they had earlier faced frequent intimidation and obstructionist behaviour by police officers since the start of the long march on January 20.
“Not only does the Administrative Court’s order obligate the Royal Thai Police and the regional police on the way to Khon Kaen to facilitate the marchers, but it is also legal assurance that the march is legal as per the Public Gathering Act,” Surachai said.
The court ordered the police to follow their duty as per Article 19 of the Public Gathering Act to provide security, manage traffic and ensure the protest follows the law and is peacefully arranged.
However, police still reserve the right to ask the court to cancel the protest and to issue other enforcement if the protesters violate the laws.
Despite the court verdict being of great relief to many of those involved in the march, Surachai cautioned that it only ordered the police, who were the defendants in the case, to follow court instructions. It did not, he said, provide the protesters with protection from military officers, who may accuse the protesters of violating the NCPO order 3/2558.
Earlier, a military officer had filed a complaint against eight participants of the march for breaching the junta’s order by gathering more than five people to stage a political protest and they were summoned to report to Klong Luang Police today.
“Nevertheless, this court’s order can be an important proof that our demonstration is the rightful exercise of our freedom of expression and is legally staged as per the Public Gathering Act. I believe that the military officers also respect this court’s order,” Surachai noted.
Pol Maj-General Thakoon Natthisri, Provincial Police Region 4 deputy commander, said the police acknowledged the court’s order and gave assurances that officers would provide good care and security for the protesters when they reach the area under his responsibility.
“Nevertheless, we want to ask the protesters to refrain from disturbing other people and breaking the law, and we will make sure that the protest has minimal effect on other people and that there will be no interference from any third party to cause chaos,” Thakoon said.
As of yesterday, People GO Network had stopped their march in Nakhon Ratchasima to arrange a public discussion about the state welfare system and the problems with the Universal Health Coverage scheme.
Meanwhile, at Songkhla’s Hat Yai District, public organisations in the South gathered in a parallel demonstration under the same name, “We Walk”, from the Hat Yai clock tower to Sena Narong military camp.
Dr Suphat Hasuwankit, one of the marchers in the South, reported that a large police force had been deployed to stop the march, but they successfully negotiated for it to continue to Sena Narong military camp to hand the military a petition urging support for freedom of expression.
In Bangkok, the People Go Network Forum led by Kasetsart University lecturer Decharut Sukkumnoed will arrange a march at Lumphini Park every evening from today until February 17 to show support for the main campaign to Khon Kaen.
People GO Network was the consolidation of various public organisations and launched the We Walk campaign to walk the 450 kilometres from Pathum Thani to Khon Kaen in order to raise public awareness on state welfare, universal healthcare, food security, community rights and environment protection, and political rights and democracy.