BANGKOK – Thirteen Thai political activists appeared at a Bangkok police station Wednesday to answer a summons on sedition charges that critics say are part of a plan to remove a rising progressive politician from the political scene.
The action came on the fifth anniversary of a military coup that ousted the last elected government and almost two months after a general election that was touted as the next step toward restoring civilian rule.
The activists are among a small but dedicated group that has consistently challenged military rule, and several have been arrested multiple times. The charges stem from a peaceful protest four years ago against the ruling junta.
“The government likes to use laws as a tool to apply pressure,” said Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, a prominent activist who is also known as Pai Dao Din and was only recently released from prison. “It’s not very just. They just do it to us.”
Politician Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit was charged last month with sedition in connection with the same protest. Thanathorn’s Future Forward Party finished third in the March 24 poll and his supporters claim the move is aimed at reducing his party’s presence in the next parliament.
If convicted, Thanathorn could face disqualification from politics. He already faces several other legal challenges that could eliminate him and possibly his party. The Election Commission has asked the Constitutional Court to rule on whether he should not take his seat because he allegedly breached electoral rules on have shareholdings in media companies.
Future Forward won 80 seats, shocking the establishment and giving it a powerful voice in the 500-seat House of Representatives. Its agenda includes curbing the military’s prominent position in Thai society.
Cutting Future Forward’s share of seats would boost the chances of the military’s favored candidate, Prayuth Chan-ocha, heading the next government. Prayuth has been serving as prime minister as well as junta chief since leading the 2014 coup.
Also charged Wednesday was Rangsiman Rome, who won a seat for Future Forward in the election.
“This case doesn’t make any sense and there are things that do not add up,” Rangsiman said. “But we can just guess that they are charging me, Pai Dao Din, and many of our friends as a way to get to Thanathorn.”
After the 2014 coup, the junta enacted strict laws banning dissent and severely limiting public gatherings and political activities.
By Kaweewit Kaewjinda
The Associated Press