Thailand banned gatherings of five or more people in Bangkok and the publication of news and information that could harm "national security" in an emergency decree passed as part of a sweeping crackdown on increasingly bold pro-democracy protests.
Riot police forcibly cleared protesters who camped overnight outside the capital's government house shortly after the emergency decree took effect at 4am Thursday. Several prominent protest leaders were also arrested, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said.
The decree was announced on state media after protesters obstructed a royal motorcade with family members of King Maha Vajiralongkorn in an unprecedented show of defiance to Thailand's powerful monarchy, which has become a flashpoint in calls for reforms.
In photos Thailand's Queen Suthida was seen as her car passed by a throng of protesters giving the iconic three-fingered salute from "The Hunger Games” movies, the de facto show of dissent for the new youth-led movement.
The crackdown came after a day of scuffles between pro-democracy demonstrators and rival royal protesters dressed in yellow shirts signifying ties to the monarchy.
Tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters camped outside the prime minister's office Wednesday in the capital to demand the resignation of the government led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former junta leader who led a coup in 2014 and held onto power in 2019 elections riddled with irregularities.
For months now protesters have pushed boundaries by openly debating the role of Vajiralongkorn, who is shielded by royal defamation laws, and calling for reforms to the ultra-rich monarchy. They are also demanding a new constitution.
As part of the decree the media were also restricted from publication of news and information "that could create fear or intentionally distort information, creating misunderstanding that will affect national security or peace and order," according to translations shared online.
Protest organizers have called for another demonstration Thursday afternoon in Bangkok in a direct challenge to the new rules.
Human rights groups blasted the decree as yet another excuse to shutdown the peaceful protests that first erupted in February in the Southeast Asian country.
"Instead of introducing measures to end the protests, and arresting its leaders Thai authorities should listen to the concerns those demonstrating are raising," ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights said in a statement. "They might find that their suggestions could benefit the entire country, and not merely a select few, as Thailand’s politics has done for so long."