(Update 1: updates with prime minister’s statement)
Bangkok, Nov 19 (efe-epa).- Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha said on Thursday that his government would intensify the police-backed and legal offensive against pro-democracy protesters even as the United Nations and nonprofit Human Rights Watch have criticized the “excessive” use of force by authorities.
In a statement, Prayut said the government had demonstrated its “sincerity” in trying to resolve crisis, but warned of the risk of an escalation in violence that could endanger the nation and the monarchy, even through the student-led protests have been largely peaceful.
“It is necessary for the government and security agencies to intensify their actions by using all laws and all articles to take action against demonstrators who break the law and show no respect for the rights of other people,” said the leader, although pledging to act according to law and “international principles.”
Student activist Tanawat Wongchai tweeted that this assertion could mean that authorities may go back to using the lèse-majesté law, even though Prayut had said in June that it would not be used due to a request by King Vajiralongkorn.
The strict law lays down prison sentences of 3-15 years for criticizing the royal household.
According to nonprofit Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, at least 90 protesters have been accused of illegal assembly, while some of their leaders have been charged with sedition, which carries prison terms of up to seven years.
The UN and the HRW (HRW) had condemned the Thai police’s use of force against protesters after more than 50 people were injured by water cannons and tear gas this week.
At least six people reportedly suffered bullet injuries, although the police has denied firing and it is not clear who is behind the gunshots.
“Thai police unnecessarily used water cannons and teargas against peaceful democracy demonstrators outside the parliament in Bangkok on (Tuesday) in violation of international human rights standards,” HRW said in a statement on Thursday.
The NGO said it had observed “crowd control units using water cannon laced with purple dye and an apparent teargas chemical, as well as teargas grenades and pepper spray grenades to disperse thousands of demonstrators, including many students.”
Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for UN Secretary General António Guterres, expressed his concern on Wednesday about the human rights situation and the use of force against peaceful protesters.
“It’s disturbing to see the repeated use of less-lethal, what are called ‘less-lethal,’ weapons against peaceful protesters, including water cannons. And not only in the past 24 hours, but we’ve seen it in the recent month,” he said at a press briefing.
“It’s very important that the government of Thailand refrain from the use of force and ensure the full protection of all people in Thailand, who are exercising a fundamental peaceful right to protest,” Dujarric added.
Since July, pro-democracy protesters have organized peaceful protests almost daily, many of them attended by tens of thousands of people including school and university students in uniform, and during which the police have used water cannons on at least three occasions.
The students are demanding a new constitution, as the current one was drawn up by the military junta (2014-2019) led by Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha.
The students also call for the resignation of Prayut, who revalidated his position as prime minister last year in controversial elections, and a reduction in the power of the military, which has taken power in 13 coups since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932.
The boldest demand is the reform of the monarchy to reduce the power of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, which is creating friction with the more conservative sectors of Thailand, a country in which a lese majeste law punishes those deemed critical of the royal family with up to 15 years in prison. EFE-EPA