A total of 11 activists have now been arrested in connection with anti-government protests in Thailand, including five on Thursday, but protest leaders say the clampdown will not halt the rallies that have been ongoing since mid-July.
A member of the chart-topping Rap Against Dictatorship group was among those detained Thursday. All nine people picked up over two days were released on bail late Thursday, after being charged with sedition and other alleged violations.
Attorney Anon Numpa, 36, who has now been arrested twice in connection with the protests, told BenarNews he would not relinquish his activism.
“We will take to the stage if we are contacted … We reaffirm that we did the right thing,” he said.
Activist Suwanna Tanlek, from the June 24 for Democracy Movement, made a similar pledge.
“We will continue, as it is the only way we can have our voices heard and have freedom of expression, even though the terms of our bail prohibit us from repeating what we did,” she said.
Protests that began in mid-July and spread to university and high-school campuses in various parts of Thailand have been calling for the ouster of the current government, the junking of a military-backed constitution and reform of the monarchy.
The sudden spate of arrests appeared to be a hardening of stance against the protest movement after Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-Cha earlier said he was “listening” to its demands and that people had the right to protest.
“I have a guideline that we will listen more to the people,” he told reporters on Aug. 4. “We know the new generation wants a future.”
“Within this month we will open forums and they can rally, because the law gives them that right.”
Dechathorn Bamrungmuang of Rap Against Dictatorship – whose October 2018 hit single “Which Country Has” shredded the then-junta government, postponement of of polls, and muzzling of free speech – was arrested apparently because his group had performed at a rally on July 18.
Police apprehended him in front of his home shortly after 8 a.m. “while he was driving his wife to work, with their little kid on board,” advocacy group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights posted on its Facebook.
Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of the political science faculty at Ubon Ratchathani University, said the government was trying to put a damper on the protests.
“The arrests are being done to create fear, to stop youths and students groups from joining the rallies. I don’t think it would escalate into violence at least in the near term,” he said.
In recent days, protest leaders became bolder in calling for reform of the monarchy, although criticizing the institution is both taboo and illegal in Thailand.
Speaking at a small street rally on Aug. 3, Anon called for curtailing the power of the monarchy and expanding free speech. Days later, a student leader at Thammasat University read out a 10-point demand to reform the monarchy.
Prayuth on Wednesday urged protesters “not to touch the monarchy.”
“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 told Britain’s Channel 4 when asked about the protests.
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. None of those arrested thus far has been charged under the law.