March 09, 2010 5:58PM
THAILAND will imprison and hand out heavy fines to any migrant workers who attend mass anti-government rallies in Bangkok this weekend, the labour minister said today.
Migrants would be subject to a five-year jail term and fines of up to 100,000 baht ($3358) if found among protesters loyal to fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra who are due to gather in the capital on Sunday.
"Employers will (also) be fined up to 100,000 baht for each migrant worker and (the migrant's) work permit will be cancelled immediately," Labour Minister Phaitoon Kaeothong said.
Thaksin's supporters, known as "Red Shirts" for the colour they wear, are expected to hold one of their biggest ever rallies to protest against a Supreme Court decision two weeks ago that seized most of the tycoon's fortune.
They are also demanding that the government quit and end what they perceive as a two-tier system of justice that gives preference to the country's Bangkok-based elites in the bureaucracy, military and palace.
The government has warned that the demonstrations could turn violent and is expected to endorse on Tuesday a tough security act that places the army in charge of handling the rallies.
Thailand's economy relies on workers from its poorer neighbours, but in recent months the country has become tougher on immigration at its borders and has been accused of widespread mistreatment of migrants.
Amnesty International's Thailand expert Benjamin Zawacki said the kingdom should not deny migrants their basic rights to express their political views by attending the rallies.
"Regardless of your legal status in a country, it should not affect your human rights, which include freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of association," Mr Zawacki said.
Rights groups have denounced a new migrant registration policy brought in this month that forces more than one million workers to verify their nationalities with their home governments.
They say the policy puts the vulnerable group in greater danger of deportation and extortion by unscrupulous authorities.