Thailand enshrines junta's unsanctioned protests ban in law

A Thai pro-government "Red Shirts" protester holds a portrait of fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra during a rally at Phutthamonthon suburb of Bangkok on April 5, 2014 (AFP Photo/Pornchai Kittiwongsakul)

Thailand has passed a new law forbidding unsanctioned protests, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha said Wednesday, ensuring the ruling junta's ban on rallies persists long after its military rulers leave office.

Political protests have been outlawed ever since Thailand's generals seized power in a May 2014 coup that toppled the democratically elected administration of Yingluck Shinawatra after months of debilitating street protests.

On Wednesday Prayut, a former army chief-turned-prime minister, said a bill requiring protest organisers to seek official permission at least 24 hours before holding a rally had been published in the Royal Gazette, the final stage of the legislative process.

"It covers all types of rallies," he said. "This law will play a significant role in the next government to maintain peace and order," he told reporters in Bangkok.

"People can still rally but they have to ask for permission and state their clear purpose."

Colourful mass rallies, marches and occupations -- including of Government House and the main airports in Bangkok -- have become a key weapon in nearly a decade of political power struggles in the kingdom.

The Thai military say they want to end that cycle and ensure disruptive public protests do not return if and when they hand back power to civilians.

The bill pushed through by the junta was passed by a vote in the kingdom's military-stacked rubber stamp parliament before it received royal approval.

The new law also bans or restricts demonstrations outside key government buildings and transport hubs.

Prayut led the coup which toppled Yingluck's administration following months of anti-government protests that saw demonstrators occupy Government House as well as several main traffic intersections across Bangkok.

The junta said it was forced to take power to end violence linked to those protests which left nearly 30 dead and hundreds wounded.

But critics say the protests were a carefully-choreographed pretext for a coup against a democratically elected government.

According to the text of the published law, those who hold unsanctioned protests face up to six months in jail and a 10,000 baht ($300) fine.

Those who hold protests which disrupt transport hubs and other key infrastructure could spend up to 10 years in jail and a 200,000 baht fine.

Bangkok has seen several bouts of often deadly demonstrations since then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra -- Yingluck's billionaire brother -- shook up politics with his pro-poor popularism in 2001.

The Shinawatras are loved by the country's rural and urban poor, but are loathed by a powerful middle class and royalist Bangkok elite, backed by parts of the military and judiciary.

Thailand has seen a rapid erosion of civil liberties since the junta seized power.

The military say they will oversee a return to democratic elections once the country's constitution has been rewritten. But proposed dates for polls have been repeatedly pushed back.