Civil court says demonstrations are peaceful, limits authorities’ powers and bars them from dispersing crowds.
BANGKOK – Describing the movement to overthrow the Thai government as peaceful, a Bangkok civil court Wednesday sharply curtailed the powers of the authorities and barred them from dispersing protesters, a decision that a prominent legal analyst described as “one step closer to a full-scale judicial coup.”
The decision came one day after clashes between police and protesters that left five people dead.
After a series of confrontations, the protest movement resembles an armed insurrection against the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Samdin Lertbutr, a protest leader, said Wednesday on Thai television that “very professional” men with weapons were assisting protesters and “making the police retreat.”
The court, however, found that the protests were being carried out “peacefully without weapons,” and ordered that the demonstrators’ rights and freedoms “be protected according to the constitution.” The decision bars the government from using force or weapons to crack down on the demonstrators.
Create unelected council
The protesters, who blocked elections in Bangkok and southern Thailand earlier this month, are seeking a suspension of democratic procedures and the creation of an unelected “people’s council” that would replace the parliament.
They resent the dominance of the prime minister, whose movement has won every election since 2001.
There is a long tradition in Thailand of overthrowing governments, often through bloodless coups or what are termed “judicial coups,” in which a leader is removed by the courts.
A prime minister in 2008 who fell out with the Bangkok establishment was removed from office because he received income from a televised cooking program.
But the current political crisis is far more intractable than those of previous years and involves a power struggle by two formidable political movements.
The protesters are backed by the elites in Bangkok, while the governing party’s power is rooted in a rural-based movement founded by Yingluck’s brother Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire tycoon now in self-exile who was ousted in a 2006 coup.
The court on Wednesday allowed the government to maintain a state of emergency that it declared last month, but at the same time it barred the authorities from searching or dismantling the areas where protesters are encamped at major intersections in Bangkok.
The court also said the protesters had the right to block roads. The government can appeal but has not said whether it will do so.
Sunai Phasuk, a researcher in Thailand with Human Rights Watch, wrote on Twitter that emergency rule was “rendered meaningless” by the court decision.
Sawat Charoenpol, a lawyer representing the protesters, described the ruling as a victory for the protest movement and said the government was “unable to do anything about the protesters.”
Verapat Pariyawong, a Harvard-trained lawyer, said Wednesday’s decision allowed protesters to claim “pseudo-legitimacy to overthrow the government.”
Slow loss of power