Former Thai cabinet minister faces jail for defying military junta

Chaturon Chaisang, who was education minister in the government ousted by the military, gestures after receiving roses from supporters as he arrives at a military court in Bangkok on Monday, Aug 4, 2014. Chaturon Chaisang could face up to 1
Chaturon Chaisang, who was education minister in the government ousted by the military, gestures after receiving roses from supporters as he arrives at a military court in Bangkok on Monday, Aug 4, 2014. Chaturon Chaisang could face up to 14 years in jail after being slapped with charges including defying a summons by the Thai junta shortly after it seized power, his lawyer said on Monday. -- PHOTO: AFP 

BANGKOK (AFP) - A former cabinet minister could face up to 14 years in jail after being slapped with charges including defying a summons by the Thai junta shortly after it seized power, his lawyer said Monday.

Chaturon Chaisang, who was education minister in the ousted government, was arrested by soldiers in front of a packed press conference on May 27, just five days after the army seized power and scooped up hundreds of potential dissidents. He was released shortly after but now faces a military court over three charges.

"If found guilty Chaturon faces seven years in jail for inciting unrest, five years for violating computer laws and two years for ignoring the summons," his lawyer Narinpong Jinapak told AFP.

The ex-politician was granted bail after his hearing but will return for trial at an unspecified date. Chaturon joins leading anti-coup activist Sombat Boonngamanon in the dock.

Sombat, who led a social media campaign to stage peaceful but illegal rallies against the junta, was charged in June with the same crimes and released on bail.

Thailand remains under martial law and both will stand trial in a military court - which currently carries no right of appeal.

After the coup, the Thai generals swiftly suspended the nation's democracy, stifled free speech and protest and put military men in charge of government departments. But they have also embarked on an extensive public relations campaign emphasising the need to "return happiness" to the people after years of bitter political divisions.

That rupture opened in 2006 when billionaire ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted as prime minister in another army putsch. Although Thaksin now lives in Dubai to avoid prison for a corruption conviction, Shinawatra-led or aligned parties have won every Thai election since 2001, swept to office by the votes of the poor but populous northern portion of the country. His sister Yingluck was booted from office by a controversial court ruling just before May's coup.

But Thaksin is hated by the Bangkok-based establishment - and its supporters in the royalist south, the military and judiciary - who accuse him of poisoning Thai politics with corruption and populist policies. Critics, however, see the coup as a thinly disguised effort to break the clan's electoral grip on the country and purge politicians and officials loyal to the Shinawatras.

The junta last week appointed a military-dominated national assembly to select a prime minister. The coup-makers will also select a council to recommend vaguely-defined reforms which will include a new permanent constitution, before fresh elections can be held.