Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Friday rejected suggestions by current leader Prayuth Chan-o-cha that he had hired “foreign lobbyists” to orchestrate protests in Bangkok earlier this week.
“I don’t need to waste money to hire anyone to condemn the Thai prime minister and thus damage the country,” Thaksin wrote on his Facebook page.
“There are no lobbyists in the world who can ruin you as much as you do yourself,” he added, apparently addressing Prayuth.
“This government took power by a coup and administered the country for two years. What has it done for the world to see? The image is tainted with unprecedented violations of people’s rights,” he said, suggesting this could lead to investment boycotts that would “severely impact the Thai economy” for many years.
The war of words between the billionaire former telecommunications tycoon, who lives in self-exile after being charged with corruption in 2008, and the general who has led Thailand with an iron hand for two years, followed an unusual show of resistance to the junta earlier this week.
“Who did this? Who supported them? Who plotted this out? Who [hired] foreign lobbyists? Thaksin. You all know this,” Prayuth told reporters Thursday when asked about the demonstration.
About 200 people clad in white T-shirts gathered Tuesday to protest the detention of Watana Muangsuk, a former commerce minister and leader of Thaksin’s Pheu Thai party.
Watana was taken in Monday for a third “attitude adjustment” after posting remarks on Facebook against the constitution that has been drafted by the Thai junta and is to be put to a referendum in August.
Demonstrators set up a mock polling station and acted out voting against the document, which critics say sets the stage for prolonged military control of the country.
Political gatherings of more than five people are illegal in Thailand under the National Council For Peace and Order (NCPO), the formal name for the junta. About 400 police surrounded the demonstration. Two protest leaders were briefly detained but released without charges.
On Thursday, Watana was charged with defying an order issued by the NCPO banning political activity, the Bangkok Post reported.
He was released late Friday, after a bail payment of 80,000 Baht (U.S. $2280), according to a post on his Facebook page.
Prayuth took power in May 2014 in a military coup that toppled Thaksin’s sister Yingluck after months of paralyzing anti-government protests. Junta leaders say they seized power to stabilize the deeply divided country.
Prayuth appeared irritated when reporters asked about Watana at a press briefing Thursday.
“The duty of the NCPO is to keep peace and order and maintain the judiciary system. Anyone who violates the law is wrong … Law is law. Today we rule [the country] like this,” he said.
He went on to accuse Thaksin of orchestrating the recent protest.
On Friday, Thailand approved a law providing a 10-year jail sentence for anyone campaigning ahead of the constitutional referendum, AFP reported.
The law criminalizes "deceiving, forcing or influencing a voter to not cast his vote or vote in any direction," the report said.
In a statement from Geneva Friday, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein expressed concern about military rule in Thailand and tightening curbs on free speech.
“An open and dynamic public debate on the draft Constitution would foster national unity, strengthen the legitimacy and acceptance of the Constitution and provide a sense of collective ownership,” Zeid said.
“I urge the Government to actively encourage, rather than discourage, dialogue and engagement on the draft Constitution.”
He further urged the government “to suspend the application of these dangerously sweeping laws and orders that have bestowed more power upon the military.”
“We fairly exercise laws in line with good governance, which is the most important thing. We will not arbitrarily use the laws against any groups of persons or person,” Col. Piyapong Klinpan, a spokesman for the junta, told BenarNews earlier in April, after an NCPO decree gave soldiers police-like powers to arrest people.