Thai Police Arrest 2 Organizers of Anti-Govt Protests on Sedition, other Charges

BenarNews staff
Bangkok
2020-08-07
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200807-TH-protest-arrest-1000.jpg Anon Numpa, a lawyer and one of the leaders of recent anti-government protests in Thailand, is pictured after his arrest at a police station in Bangkok, Aug. 7, 2020.
Reuters

Thai police made their first arrests Friday in connection with anti-government rallies staged in various parts of the country since mid-July, hauling in two protest leaders on eight charges including sedition.

Among the pair arrested was Anon Numpa, a 35-year-old lawyer who, four days earlier, had led a rarely seen public protest, where demonstrators openly challenged the monarchy – the country’s most powerful institution – by calling for curtailing its influence.

“I’m arrested,” Anon announced on his personal Facebook page late on Friday, as police officers approached him with an arrest warrant outside his Bangkok home.

The other activist, Panupong Jadnok, was arrested from Ramkhamhaeng University in Bangkok, according to Weeranun Huadsri, an attorney with Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, a legal aid group representing the two activists, told BenarNews.

Weeranun said warrants were also expected for at least 28 others wanted by police on similar charges.

A press release issued by police said they had charged Anon and Panupong under laws and regulations related to sedition; organizing gatherings of 10 or more people to threaten unrest; leading mass gatherings that could spread the coronavirus; and five other offenses.

The two were arrested on those preliminary charges in connection with “demonstrations from July 18 onwards,” according to the statement from police.

Large anti-government demonstrations broke out in Bangkok and Chiang Mai on the weekend of July 18-19 and later spread to other areas, with protestors demanding the ouster of the government headed by Prayuth Chan-o-cha, a former junta chief and 2014 military coup leader.

The protests, spearheaded by a network of university students calling itself the “Free Youth” movement, among other demands, have pressed for the dissolution of parliament and amendments to the 2017 Constitution, which they alleged was designed to keep Prayuth and other ex-military leaders in power.

Weeranum said Anon, Panupong and the other wanted activists could face up to 14 years in prison, if prosecuted and convicted of the charges.

Late on Friday night, police took the two activists to the Ratchada Court for processing but court officials refused to process their case because it was after hours, and ordered the officers to take them back to the police station in Huay Kwang, a district of Bangkok.

In the lobby of the courthouse, dozens of supporters of the two activists were waiting as a group of policemen stood by to take them back to the police station.

Then a minor scuffle broke out as the officers took hold of Anon and Panupong.

“If you think you have the power, just arrest me,” Anon challenged them, as seen on the Facebook Live feed broadcast by the Free Youth movement close to midnight.

“I am well pleased to sacrifice freedom for my principles. Let’s all come out and fight. Don’t waste your time to ‘Free Anon.’ Just striving for our demands,” Anon said in a message sent out later through his lawyer.

On Monday, Anon took to the stage dressed in a Harry Potter outfit as he led a demonstration calling for curtailing the power of the monarchy, which has long been shielded by Lese-Majeste, a strict law that forbids any criticism of the royal family.

“We have democracy with the king as the head of state, but the monarchy has much more power than the system allows,” he said during that demonstration. “We need to seriously deal with this matter and allow everyone to speak out publicly and with due respect to the institution, otherwise we can’t solve problems.

In the days that followed, Prime Minister Prayuth urged anti-government activists “not to incite turmoil and make things worse at this time.”

Later, Gen. Apirat Kongsomong, the chief of the Royal Thai Army, indirectly criticized the protesters, according to the Associated Press.

“COVID-19 can be cured … but the disease that cannot be cured is the hatred of the nation,” AP quoted Apirat as saying in a speech to cadets.

After Anon and Panupong were arrested, global rights watchdog Amnesty International said they were taken into custody ahead of more anti-government protests planned for the weekend.

In a statement, the group called on the authorities to drop charges against the two.

“This is yet another entirely disproportionate response from the Thai police to peaceful activism, clearly intended to intimidate and dissuade protestors from taking to the streets this weekend,” said Piyanut Kotsan, the director of Amnesty’s Thai office.

“Having endured months of harassment, Anon Nampa and Panupong Jadnok now face a repressive new set of criminal charges simply for exercising their right to protest.”

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