Oct. 15 (UPI) -- The prime minister of Thailand Prayut Chan-o-cha declared a state of emergency on Thursday in response to escalating protests calling for pro-democracy reforms in the kingdom.
The decree was issued after thousands of protesters on Wednesday took to the streets of Bangkok demanding the prime minister's resignation and for a new constitution, saying it allowed Prayut, who took the helm of the country in a 2014 coup, to unfairly maintain power during last year's elections.
The protests, which started early this summer, also call for reforms concerning the wealth of the kingdom's royals and laws against criticizing the monarchy.
The protesters on Wednesday made their way through Bangkok and set up camp outside the prime minister's office.
The government said in the decree that it was issued as groups of protesters "intended to instigate an untoward incident" near the Government House and said some had already obstructed the royal motorcade in violation of the kingdom's law and constitution as the reason for its issuance.
"It is, therefore, extremely necessary for an urgent measure to be implemented in order to end the situation in an efficient and prompt manner, to ensure compliance with the law, and to sustain national order and public interest," the decree said.
The decree went into effect at 4 a.m. Thursday, banning groups of more than five and the publication and distribution of news and information "that contains messages that could create fear or intentionally distort information" that could threaten national security, peace and order.
Following the decree, police began enforcing it near the Government House early Thursday, arresting some 20 demonstrators, including protest leaders, Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said on Twitter.
"Under state of emergency, police can detain them without charge up to 30 days," he said. "No lawyer access."
The country was already under a state of emergency due to COVID-19.
Piya Tawichai, deputy chief of police in Bangkok, said Thursday morning that six companies of officers were deployed to end the encampment at the government house, the Bangkok Post reported.
"With further public assemblies expected to happen today, we urge the Thai authorities to engage in constructive dialogue with the protesters," said Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International's deputy regional director for campaigns.
Ming said the scale of the arrests on Thursday was "completely unjustified" as the protests the day prior were "overwhelmingly peaceful," accusing the government of ruling by decree.
"These moves are clearly designed to stamp out dissent and sow fear in anyone who sympathizes with the protesters' views," Ming said. "These arrests are sudden emergency measures announced in the middle of the night, are just the latest escalation in Thailand's current onslaught on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly."