The Thai government has again opted to invoke the Internal Security Act (ISA) after a small group of protesters this week began a street demonstration outside Government House. It appears the government has become "addicted" to the ISA, and it seems unable to stop using it to deal with protesters. The ISA has been invoked repeatedly, every time anti-government protesters gather in Bangkok.
The current administration invoked the ISA for the first time when anti-government group Pitak Siam staged a rally at the Royal Plaza last November. The group announced a plan to oust the government from power, but the government invoked the act, which portrayed the group in a bad light. Thousands of crowd-control police were mobilised, and they were well equipped to deal with the protesters.
On the very first day of the anti-government rally, police fired tear gas at the protesters during several clashes. The protest leaders decided to end the rally before sunset, citing security reasons.
The ISA was praised as an important tool for controlling the situation. Since that success, the government has consistently turned to the ISA when faced with protesters in the capital.
In the latest development, the People’s Army to Overthrow the Thaksin Regime on Monday night moved from its previous protest site at Lumpini Park to set up camp just outside Government House. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is scheduled to visit Thailand from today, 11 October, including stops at Government House and nearby Parliament House. The authorities therefore saw the need to drive away the protesters as soon as possible.
Only a few hundred people took part in the rally outside Government House on the first day. The ISA should in fact only be declared when there is widespread unrest, and not when a few hundred people protest against the government.
It is not unusual that the government is concerned about the protesters. But it should have opted for a more appropriate measure to deal with them. The protesters have the right to stage a public gathering, even if it is held just outside Government House.