Updated at 9:32 p.m. ET on 2020-08-19
A lawyer who has helped lead anti-government demonstrations in Thailand was detained overnight and is expected in court on Thursday to face sedition and other charges related to a rally where he called for reform of the monarchy, his attorney said.
Attorney Anon Numpa was one of as many as four pro-democracy activists arrested Wednesday in connection with the protests, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement issued Thursday morning (local time).
In a Facebook post, Anon, 35, said more than 10 men were waiting outside while he worked with clients in a Bangkok criminal court. The men took him into custody to face charges linked to an Aug. 3 rally, according to his lawyer.
“He is being charged with sedition, violating the emergency decree, using loudspeakers without permission and obstruction of traffic,” lawyer Krisdang Nuchjarus told BenarNews at the Chanasongkram police station late Wednesday.
“Anon was arrested at a criminal court based on an arrest warrant over his speech on Aug. 3, but he denied the accusation,” Krisdang said. “The investigators denied our bail request for fear that Anon may escape.”
HRW identified the three other arrested activists as Baramee Chairat from the Assembly of the Poor in Bangkok, Suwanna Tanlek from the June 24 for Democracy Movement, and Korakot Saengyenphan from the Democracy Restoration Group. The three, who were being held at the Samranrat police station in Bangkok, were also facing sedition and other charges similar to those brought against Anon, the New York-based global rights watchdog said.
“The Thai government’s repeated promises to listen to dissenting voices have proven meaningless as the crackdown on pro-democracy activists continues unabated,” Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director, said in the statement. “The authorities should right their wrong and immediately drop the charges and release Anon and other detained activists.”
Anon’s arrest came on the same day police issued warrants for him and five others in connection with a protest on Aug. 10 that featured a list of demands to reform the nation’s monarchy.
Speaking to about 200 people at a protest on Aug. 3, Anon called for curtailing the power of the monarchy and expanding free speech.
“We have democracy with the king as the head of state, but the monarchy has much more power than the system allows,” Anon told protesters. “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.
“This doesn’t mean we want to abolish the monarchy – we want to improve how the monarchy legitimately co-exists in the system,” he said.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha on Wednesday urged protesters “not to touch the monarchy.”
“You have to understand how important the monarchy is to Thailand. So I will not address the matter,” Prayuth told Britain’s Channel 4 when asked about the students’ call for reform.
“I know all of their demands. Only one thing I beg of them: don’t touch the monarchy issue, as it’s respected by all Thai people,” he said.
‘Worth the risk’
Anon’s comments were widely seen as among the boldest remarks on the monarchy in years in a society where criticizing the institution is both taboo and illegal.
Under Thailand’s Lese-Majeste law, one count of defaming, insulting or threatening the Thai royal family carries a penalty of three to 15 years in prison. Nearly 100 people have been charged under the law since 2014, according to iLaw, an online legal advocacy group.
The Lese-Majeste law has been used less frequently of late, at the request of the King himself, according to Prayuth.
Earlier this week, Anon said that raising the matter was “worth the risk” because it reflected the views of many Thais.
“A significant number of people in our society – citizens, university students and professors – agree with our proposal that would lead to an authentic reform of the monarchy,” Anon told BenarNews prior to an Aug. 16 rally in Bangkok. “Therefore, we can say that what happens is worth the risk, if we address the matter frankly.”
The arrest Wednesday was Anon’s second, and the seventh stemming from a series of anti-government protests in various parts of the country that began in mid-July.
Protesters have demanded that Prayuth step down, and complained that the constitution was designed to keep him and other ex-military leaders in power. As the rallies spread, police issued multiple arrest warrants on sedition and other charges.
On Wednesday, police in Pathum Thani province of metropolitan Bangkok issued arrest warrants against Anon, Panupong Jadnok and four others over the Aug. 10 protest at Thammasat University, according to Maj. Gen. Chayuth Marayatr, chief of the provincial police bureau.
They were charged with sedition, computer crimes, violating disease control measures and using loudspeakers without a permit, he said.
While police were issuing warrants, about 400 high school students surrounded the Ministry of Education on Wednesday, according to the Associated Press. The students, who demanded better education and called for Prayuth to step down, booed Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan and his aides when they came out to meet with them.
Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, a Thammasat student leader who read out a 10-point demand to reform the monarchy and was one of the six named in the warrants, said she would fight the case because she exercised her constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech.
“Come catch me, I won’t escape, but I won’t surrender,” she told BenarNews. “It’s illegitimate. We affirm our constitutional rights to freedom of expression, we will fight the case.”