BANGKOK – Thai Military Prosecutors on Friday indicted 19 senior members of the anti-coup Red Shirt movement for violating a ban on political activities when they sought to open an office to monitor last August’s referendum on a new constitution.
The draft charter, criticized as undemocratic but promoted by the military regime that seized power from an elected government in May 2014, was passed.
The Red Shirt movement, also known as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, is closely associated with the Pheu Thai party that led the ousted civilian government. It led militant street demonstrations in 2010 in Bangkok that were put down with deadly force by the army.
The indictments in a military court appear to mark a resumption of government pressure on its opponents after a period of relative political calm following the Oct. 13 death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
The Red Shirt leaders were charged with violating a ban on holding political assemblies of more than five people that the military imposed shortly after taking power. If found guilty they could be jailed for one year and fined up to 20,000 baht ($560).
Winyat Chartmontri, a representative of the UDD legal team, said the prosecutors resolved to indict his clients as the act was deemed a political gathering in their view despite the fact that it was only an ordinary press conference.
Mr Winyat added they were willing to fight in court since the gathering cannot be regarded as a violation of the regime’s banning because his clients had no intention of stirring up trouble and their gathering did not have a political agenda.
The UDD in June filed a petition with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) in Bangkok.
It complained its rights were violated after it was banned from opening provincial centres to monitor possible fraud in the Aug 7 charter referendum.
At the time, Mr Jatuporn explained that the UDD decided to submit the petition to the UN because its centres were opened in only 47 provinces.
In 29 other provinces, UDD members were allegedly prevented from opening the monitoring centres by the regime.
Also, Mr Nattawut has said the political atmosphere during the lead-up to the referendum in Thailand was different to those in other parts of the world because the people had no rights or freedom.
Meanwhile, on Friday, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha reshuffled 12 positions in his Cabinet. Two military men who resigned ministerial posts last week after being appointed to the Privy Council of advisers to the king were replaced by civilians.
Pichet Durongkaveroj, who had been minister of science and technology, became the first minister of the newly created Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, which replaced the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology.
Sources: The Associated Press | Bangkok Post