Thai opposition politicians charged on eve of coup anniversary

Members of former leaders Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra’s party violated a ban on political gatherings

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 May, 2018, 4:56pm
UPDATED : Monday, 21 May, 2018, 5:10pm

Three politicians from the party ousted by Thailand’s generals were charged on Monday with sedition, as dissent grows before the fourth anniversary of the junta’s 2014 coup.

The military filed a case after senior Puea Thai party figures railed against the coup organisers at a press conference last week, blasting the generals for repeatedly breaking promises to restore democracy.

The party supports former premiers Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister Yingluck, whose elected governments were both toppled by coups but who remain popular among many rural Thais despite both living in exile to avoid jail time for corruption.

The military now says it will allow elections in February but has refused to lift its ban on political gatherings of more than five people.

But critics are increasingly testing the limits of the ban, which they say is intended to give the generals time to build a political coalition before the vote without any public debate.

On Monday Puea Thai’s Watana Muangsook, Chaturon Chaisang and Chusak Sirinil were all charged with sedition, while five other party leaders were charged with violating the ban on gatherings, the deputy national police chief told reporters.

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“They were summoned to hear charges that were filed by the [government] on Thursday,” said Srivara Rangsibhramanakul, adding police would not detain the men while the case proceeded.

The Puea Thai veterans kept up their criticism of the military as they cut through a crowd gathered outside the police office and shouting “Fight, fight!” in support.

“This government abuses the laws. They use laws to prevent people from investigating [them],” said Puea Thai’s secretary general Phumtham Wechayachai.

The government is taking a harder line as it gears up for any protests on the coup’s fourth anniversary on Tuesday, with activists vowing to march on Government House in the morning.

Police have warned they will enforce a “restricted area” around the building.

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The pro-democracy movement led by a dedicated cohort of student activists said they have come under increased surveillance before their planned march.

In a statement the group said their sound technician was summoned to a military camp on Sunday night and had not been seen or heard from since.

According to a group of human rights lawyers, more than 50 people have been visited, called or monitored by security officers since May 17.

A government spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Titipol Phakdeewanich, a politics professor based in Thailand’s rural northeast, said officers had been visiting local activists in the region, a Puea Thai stronghold.

“They are also using their network in local areas as well … having some of their military going into villages and asking people not to go [to the Bangkok protest],” Titipol said, adding that he himself received a phone call from the military asking whether he planned to attend the march.