General Natthaphol Nakpanich, the deputy chairman of the ad hoc committee on the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, said it would recommend that today’s meeting of the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) extend the decree, which is due to expire on July 31.
The recommendation is expected to be proposed to the CCSA by Gen Somsak Roongsita, secretary-general of the National Security Council and chair of the ad hoc committee.
However, Gen Natthaphol, the deputy army chief, added that the committee would also suggest that Section 9 (2) of the decree on quelling civil unrest be deleted so that it no longer relates to public gatherings and protests, which can be dealt with by the law on public assembly.
His comments follow an anti-government protest in Bangkok on Sunday led by the Free Youth group and the Student Union of Thailand, which called for the decree to be scrapped. The protesters were worried it might be used by the government to suppress dissenters.
Gen Natthaphol, however, warned that if the street protests, where social distancing was not always practised, triggered a new round of virus infections, their leaders would be held to account under the communicable disease control law.
He said the decree needed to be extended in light of the two controversial COVID-19 cases involving a military airman from Egypt and a nine-year-old girl from Sudan.
The emergency powers should remain in place, he said, to enable tight disease surveillance to be conducted with the new school term having only begun at the start of this month.
Gen Natthaphol said if the decree is approved for renewal as recommended, it would be watered down and “tantamount to a soldier being stripped of his firearms”.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha insisted the government would not abuse the emergency decree against protesters.
Asked how the government would treat protesters who had verbally offended those in high office, Gen Prayut said he had ordered the authorities to handle them with extra care as many were young university students.
“Please be careful and avoid breaking the [lese majeste] law. I think the people [loyal to the monarchy] won’t let them [protesters] keep breaking the law again and again,” he said.
The CCSA, he said, would also today discuss further easing restrictions.