Thailand Shuts Down News Agencies amid Protest ‘Emergency’

Ongoing anti-government protests in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, forced authorities to declare a “severe” state of emergency in the city on October 15. The emergency decree allowed the government to order the shutdown of news agencies supporting the protest movement on October 19.

Thailand’s national police ordered that four news agencies and the main student activist Facebook page organizing protests be shut down, local news outlet Coconuts Bangkok reported on Monday.

“In an order to telecom regulators, the police said four news outlets – The Reporters, Prachatai, The Standard and Voice TV – and student activist group Free Youth should be shut down for violating the new state of emergency.” The entities presented “misleading information” affecting “national stability or order,” according to the decree, which was signed by national police chief Suwat Changyodsuk.

The order was prompted by five days of relentless anti-government protests that have overtaken much of Bangkok. The intense rallies in the capital follow three months of protests across Thailand, which have sought to bring down Thailand’s Prime Minister, Prayut Chan-o-cha — a former junta leader who came to power in 2014 following a military coup — and to curb the powers of Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s monarchy. The protesters have warned of a “surprise” if their demands are not met.

The protest movement has been ongoing since at least July but received additional momentum last week after police used a water cannon to disperse ralliers in Bangkok for the first time on October 16; some protesters have alleged that the water used in the cannon contained a chemical irritant. The crackdown saw Thai police arrest several of the movement’s leaders.

Prayut announced the “severe” state of emergency on October 15 in response to thousands of protesters setting up camp outside the prime minister’s office and obstructing a royal motorcade days earlier. The Thai leader said the decree was necessary “to prevent a more serious turn of events.” Prayut deemed the rallies, often attended by thousands of people, “illegal” and argued that they hindered government efforts to enforce social distancing to curb the spread of the Chinese coronavirus. The new emergency order “bans gatherings of five or more people” in the capital. It also prohibits “the publication of news or online messages that could harm national security, stoke fear, or intentionally distort information.”

Anyone who takes a selfie photograph of him or herself attending a banned rally now faces a fine of up to THB 40,000 (about $1,282) and up to two years in jail, Coconuts Bangkok reported on Monday.

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