BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's military-installed prime minister defended a new law that places tight restrictions on public gatherings and warned Thursday it will be strictly enforced.
Human rights groups have voiced concern about the Public Assembly Act, which took effect Thursday, and its stiff penalties. It is the latest restrictive measure to be put in place since the military ousted an elected government in a coup last year, following years of political demonstrations that led to violence and often paralyzed the country's capital.
Interim Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the former army chief who organized the coup, said the law requires that protesters apply for permission from police for rallies at least 24 hours in advance. It bans all demonstrations within 150 meters (500 feet) of the prime minister's headquarters known as Government House, Parliament, royal palaces and courthouses unless a specific area has been authorized and designated by authorities. It also bars protesters from blocking entrances or creating a disturbance at government offices, airports, seaports, train and bus stations, hospitals, schools and embassies.
Thailand has had waves of massive anti-government protests over the past decade that spread to key government offices, Bangkok's central business district and major airports.
"This law will be strictly enforced to prevent the type of nuisance and violence that happened in the past," Prayuth told reporters. "It's not possible to have it all — happiness, equality, democracy — without giving us the tools."
The law details a variety of penalties, including up to 6 months in prison and a 10,000 baht ($300) fine for protesting without police permission and up to 10 years in prison for any disruption of public service, such as public transportation, telecommunications, water and electricity supplies.
Protesters who ignore police orders to leave a site could face up to a year in prison and a 20,000 baht fine, while protesters armed with guns, explosives or similar weapons could face up to 5 years in prison and a 100,000 baht fine.
The bill was proposed by the police department, approved by the military-installed Cabinet and won a unanimous 182-0 vote in the military-installed National Legislative Assembly before being published last month in the Royal Gazette, which decreed the law would take effect Aug. 13.
Human rights groups say the law gives broad powers to authorities to prohibit public assemblies on vague and arbitrary grounds.
"This law violates the rights of the people. We want this act revoked," said Nutchapakorn Nummueng, a representative of iLaw, a legal watchdog and rights advocacy group.