BANGKOK – The Metropolitan Police in Bangkok have arrested several anti-junta activists for making small protests marking a year since military generals seized power from the elected government.
A group of die-hard campaigners called Resistant Citizen, who have repeatedly defied the junta’s ban on political protests, were prevented from marching to a court in Bangkok to file treason charges against prime minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha.
Protests began outside a Bangkok shopping mall in the Chidlom area, where boisterous demonstrators brandished signs reading “Junta Out” and “Fuck Coup” and pushed armed troops.
Minor scuffles broke out and at least two protesters were taken away by the troops, one bleeding, according to AFP journalists.
Demonstrators then made their way across the city to the Victory Monument cheered by onlookers, defying a junta call to avoid protests and a martial law ban on gatherings of more than five people.
“I am not afraid of them because the more we are afraid of them, the more they will stamp on us,” protester Kongjit Paennoy, 50, said. “We want an election — to choose our own boss.”
The junta on Saturday announced it had disbanded the Senate and placed all law-making authority in the hands of army chief General Prayuth Chan-Ocha.
Civil liberties have been curbed, media restrictions imposed and most of the constitution abrogated
At least four of the group were arrested, an AFP photographer said.
Meanwhile, students were wrestled to the ground and detained for holding an anti-coup banner in the north-eastern city of Khon Kaen, a bastion of support for former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whose government was toppled during the 2014 coup.
Student activists who have previously held creative “flash mob” acts of dissent, including readings of George Orwell’s anti-authoritarian novel 1984 and flashing the three-fingered salute from the Hunger Games films, have also said they will hold a protest in downtown Bangkok on Friday evening (local time).
However, widespread dissent appeared unlikely with the country still in lockdown.
Thailand’s military took over on May 22 last year after violent protests by anti-government supporters paralysed Ms Yingluck’s administration.
She was dumped out of office by a court ruling two weeks before the coup.
Martial law was imposed two days before the military took over.
The former prime minister’s supporters have said the putsch was the latest assault by the royalist Bangkok-centric elite on the kingdom’s burgeoning democratic forces, in particular from the culturally distinct north-east, which has voted Shinawatra parties to power in every election since 2001.
In the past year, protests have been smothered, dissenters arrested and anti-coup radio and television stations shut, while royal defamation cases have surged as rights groups say the space to speak freely diminishes.
General Prayuth said the country “may have collapsed” without his intervention, maintaining the power grab restored order after months of protests.
“I did it [the coup] myself because I thought that both the country and the people were in severe danger … I made up my mind alone,” he said.
“If I didn’t do it I wonder if our country may already have collapsed.”
General Prayuth has taken credit for rebooting the kingdom’s economy — although economic growth last year was just 0.7 per cent, the weakest in three years — and has rewritten the country’s constitution to end Thailand’s deep political divisions and expunge corruption.
Fresh elections were penciled in for early to mid-2016, but General Prayuth said the timetable may slip if a referendum is held on the charter many see as a barely concealed attempt to hack back the Shinawatras’ political dominance.
Anti-government protesters still under the military’s eyes
The coup anniversary has been largely ignored by the Red Shirt movement loyal to Ms Yingluck and her brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was also ousted in a coup in 2006 and now lives in self-exile.
Red Shirt leader Nattawut Saikua was one of the few to comment Friday, condemning General Prayuth’s year in power in a Facebook post and accusing the junta of “putting duct tape on top of a fresh wound without applying any medicine”.
In Isaan, the north-eastern heartlands of the Shinawatras, soldiers in Humvees were still conducting patrols into remote Red Shirt villages, locals said.
“Soldiers are very strict,” a senior Red Shirt leader said.
“There is nothing to gain from any movements. It’s better to wait.
“Everyone [the Red Shirts] is waiting for the election … I hope the army are gentlemanly enough not to break their promise to hold it.”