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Thai PM vows to uphold public order ahead of Cabinet reshuffle

BANGKOK — Ahead of an expected Cabinet reshuffle, Thailand’s military-installed Prime Minister defended a new law that places tight restrictions on public gatherings and warned yesterday that it will be strictly enforced.

BANGKOK — Ahead of an expected Cabinet reshuffle, Thailand’s military-installed Prime Minister defended a new law that places tight restrictions on public gatherings and warned yesterday that it will be strictly enforced.

“This law will be strictly enforced to prevent the type of nuisance and violence that happened in the past,’’ Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters yesterday, referring to the new Public Assembly Act. “It’s not possible to have it all — happiness, equality, democracy — without giving us the tools.”

The Public Assembly Act requires that protesters apply for permission from police for rallies at least 24 hours in advance. It bans all demonstrations within 150m of the prime minister’s headquarters known as Government House, Parliament, royal palaces and courthouses, unless a specific area has been authorised 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.

Mr Prayuth’s comments on the new law came just after he had confirmed earlier yesterday that there would be an imminent Cabinet reshuffle, where he would change some ministers and appoint outsiders to the posts.

“I will change ministers according appropriateness,” Mr Prayuth told reporters. “There will be outsiders and some will have to leave.”

Human rights groups have voiced concern about the new law, which took effect yesterday, 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 paralysed the country’s capital.

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.

The law details a variety of penalties, including up to six months in prison and a 10,000 baht (S$397) 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 five 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 on Aug 13.

Human rights groups said 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 Mr Nutchapakorn Nummueng, a representative of iLaw, a legal watchdog and rights advocacy group. AGENCIES

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