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Thai Police Summon Top Officials of Anti-Junta Party

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Bangkok
2019-04-03
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Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the anti-junta Future Forward Party, poses for selfies with supporters while campaigning in Bangkok, Feb. 21, 2019.
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the anti-junta Future Forward Party, poses for selfies with supporters while campaigning in Bangkok, Feb. 21, 2019.
Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews

The top two leaders of an anti-junta political party said Wednesday that Thai police had summoned them for individual questioning over separate criminal allegations.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, who heads the Future Forward Party (FFP) and ran as its prime ministerial candidate in the March 24 general election, described a summons from police to question him about his alleged role in helping suspects escape in 2015 as politically motivated.

He revealed the summons letter in a Facebook post on Wednesday. The party’s secretary general, meanwhile, posted a similar summons letter that he had received to be questioned over contempt of court and computer-crimes charges.

“It is apparent that the same old political game doesn’t end at the end of elections, but it is intensified,” Thanathorn said. “Just because they fear the Future Forward Party, fear its unexpected triumph, fear the party with the policy and ideology which gained followers without using money or influence.

“I will go meet the police to prove my innocence, to prove that the nation’s justice won’t yield to the dictatorship,” he said.

BenarNews could not immediately confirm with police that they had summoned Thanathorn and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, Future Forward’s secretary general, for questioning.

Future Forward won 30 directly elected parliamentary seats in last month’s polls, the first held in Thailand since the military seized power through a coup five years ago.

The party led by Thanathorn, the 40-year-old scion of a Thai auto parts company, was among seven parties that formed a pro-democracy alliance last week in the aftermath of the election, whose final outcome has yet to be officially resolved.

The alliance is headed by Pheu Thai, a party linked with deposed and exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Pheu Thai won the biggest number of directly elected seats in parliament’s lower house – 137 out of 350 contested seats – according to results released by the Election Commission.

The pro-junta Palang Pracharat Party won 97 elected seats, but boasted that it had won the popular vote by drawing at least 8.4 million votes, according to official full results of ballots counted.

‘Old cases’

Thanathorn said he was scheduled to meet with police in Pathumwan, a district in Bangkok, on Saturday. He could face a charge of sedition, which carries a maximum seven-year sentence, and aiding criminals, which carries a maximum two-year sentence.

The charges against Thanathorn stemmed from a rally at Pathumwan police station on June 24, 2015, Col. Burin Thongprapai, legal adviser for the military government, told Thai media on Wednesday. On that day in 2015, eight students who had been involved in anti-junta activities a month earlier, were scheduled to report to police but surrounded the station instead.

He said Thanathorn had used his mother’s van to help the student activists escape.

A senior police official denied that move to summons Thanathorn was political.

“These are the old cases,” Deputy National Police Chief Gen. Srivarah Rangsipramanakul told a Thai news channel. “The case proceeded slowly because of changes in supervisors.”

Piyabutr, for his part, said he had received a police summons to be questioned for his role in criticism leveled by his party after a court disbanded the opposition Thai Raksa Chart Party weeks before the vote.

Piyabutr, who postponed his scheduled appearance before police on Wednesday, posted the summons letter on Facebook. The letter stated that the culprit was the owner of the party’s website but did not specify a charge against Piyabutr, calling him a “witness.”

Burin said the government sought to punish Piyabutr for contempt of court and violations of the Computer Crimes Act that carry penalties of up to seven years and five years in prison.

After the Thai Raksa Chart Party was ordered disbanded on March 7 because it had nominated Princess Ubolratana as its candidate for prime minister, the Future Forward Party issued a critical statement.

“The judicial system has been abused as a political tool for over a decade. It doesn’t help in reducing political tension but raises the question on power abuse,” according to an excerpt.

Threats against pro-democracy activists

Also on Wednesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Thai authorities to investigate alleged threats and attacks against a Thai political activist, Ekachai Hongkangwan, and other pro-democracy activists.

HRW said arsonists had torched his car early Monday, hours after he led a protest calling for members of the Election Commission to be impeached for allegedly helping Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha to retain power through the election. The results of the election have not been finalized.

“The environment for Thailand’s pro-democracy activists appears to be taking a turn for the worse,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director. “It’s crucial for Thai authorities to fully investigate these incidents, bring the attackers to justice, and act promptly to end the deepening climate of fear.”

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