BANGKOK (AFP) - Dozens of Thai students who were dragged away and held overnight by the police after they staged an anti-coup protest in Bangkok on Friday evening were "merely invited for talks", a senior police officer said on Saturday.
The student protest was one of a handful of rare public acts of defiance that sprung up in the military controlled nation yesterday as it marked one year since then army chief Prayut Chan-o-Cha seized power, toppling the elected administration of Yingluck Shinawatra. Political protests are currently banned in Thailand alongside criticising the junta.
Angry scuffles broke out late on Friday between the police and around 50 student protesters after some of the anti-coup demonstrators tried to chain themselves together outside a popular mall in the capital. An AFP reporter on the scene saw teams of uniformed and plainclothes police dragging students away and into custody.
"Police merely invited them for talks they are not arrested," Major-General Chayapol Chatchaidet, commander of Bangkok's zone six, which covers much of the city's downtown districts, told AFP. "All 31 students have been freed this morning. No charge has been filed against anyone."
Thailand's police and military routinely use the phrase "invited to talk" to describe detentions that are anything but voluntary.
In the days after the coup, the junta ordered scores of politicians, academics and critics to report for "attitude adjustment", some of whom were held for up to a week, including ousted premier Yingluck.
Such sessions are still used by the military to silence critics of the junta.
Local rights group iLaw, which monitors arrest figures, said Friday that 751 people have been "summoned" by the authorities since the military took over while 166 people have been arrested "while expressing their opinions in a public place".
Seven student protesters were also detained Friday in the north-eastern city of Khon Kaen, a bastion of support for Yingluck and her brother Thaksin, who was toppled in a 2006 military coup.
Unlike the others arrested, local police said the Khon Kaen students were all charged with breaking a junta law banning protests and released on a 7,500 baht (S$300) bail.
At least four people were also briefly detained when a die-hard campaign group marched to a court in Bangkok to file treason charges against General Prayut. The police said all have since been released.
The junta says its power grab restored order after months of protests against Yingluck left dozens dead and the economy in a straitjacket.
Fresh elections were pencilled in for early-mid 2016, but Gen Prayut has said that timetable may slip if a referendum is held on a new Constitution many see as a barely concealed attempt to pare back the Shinawatras' political dominance after their parties won every election since 2001.
Supporters of the Shinawatra family say the putsch was the latest assault by the royalist Bangkok-centric elite on the kingdom's burgeoning democratic forces.
But while the Shinawatras are loved by poor voters, particularly in the culturally distinct north-east, they are loathed by their establishment opponents who accuse them of corruption, cronyism and costly populist polices.