Police who broke up a peaceful protest outside Government House and arrested three dozen demonstrators acted within the law, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha asserted Tuesday.
Bangkok police whisked away 36 people protesting a planned Songkhla industrial estate project after they refused to move their demonstration from in front of Government House.
Police ended the protest at Government House after 9 p.m. Monday after demonstrators encamped to demand the government conduct a strategic environmental assessment of the project in Chana District with public participation.
Before dispersal, police repeatedly told demonstrators to move to the adjacent Chamai Maruchet Bridge, to no avail. Protesters told police that they would not move but would not fight either if police wanted to force a crackdown on their demonstration.
Despite the protest being peaceful, police cited possible security concerns and moved in while blocking the media from documenting the crackdown.
Prayut claimed intelligence indicated more people would show up at the rally site, posing risks of illegal assembly and violations of law. The former general said he ordered authorities to warn the arrested protesters not to gather there again and release them. The protesters would not be punished, the prime minister promised.
Earlier reports stated that the demonstrators would be charged with violating the Emergency Decree’s prohibition against mass gatherings. Such violations carry potential fines of up to 40,000 baht and two years in prison.
The incident began when about 50 Chana District residents, many of them women and older people, set up a protest site near one of the entrances of Government House Monday afternoon.
The Chana Rakthin Network is concerned that there has been no sign that the government will fulfill its promises to delay the industrial project. There has yet to be a neutral assessment even a year after an agreement with the government.
Residents worry the project will pollute the land and devastate countless livelihoods.
At 9:22 p.m., crowd control police brought all 36 demonstrators to the Police Club. They comprised five men and 31 women. Police also removed the protesters’ banners and barricades.
Prayut said he was ready to listen to the protestors’ opinions. He asked other southerners not to come to Bangkok, claiming that the government would send representatives to meet them.
“We must discuss facts and see if anything was distorted. The government plans to develop the economy of the South,” the prime minister said.