Protest leaders freed on bail by Thai court

Pro-democracy activist Sirawith Seritiwat greeting supporters as he arrived at the Criminal Court in Bangkok yesterday. He was among a group of activists who led a protest on Tuesday, on the anniversary of a 2014 coup.
Pro-democracy activist Sirawith Seritiwat greeting supporters as he arrived at the Criminal Court in Bangkok yesterday. He was among a group of activists who led a protest on Tuesday, on the anniversary of a 2014 coup.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Pro-democracy activists freed on condition they do not join illegal gatherings again

BANGKOK • A Thai court yesterday freed on bail a group of activists who led a protest in Bangkok on the anniversary of a 2014 coup, forbidding them from holding another illegal protest, the group's lawyer said.

Tuesday's protest highlighted concern over the military's prolonged rule and repeated delays in general elections originally promised in 2015, which Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha this week said would be held next year.

"May dictatorship be destroyed. May democracy flourish," one of the protest leaders, Rangsiman Rome, 26, shouted as he walked into court.

The 15 pro-democracy activists had been in police custody since the protest, when most of them surrendered to police, although a handful were forcibly taken away, Reuters reporters said at the time.

"The court agreed to release them on condition that they don't participate in political gatherings that are illegal again," lawyer Kisadang Nutjarat said.

Bail was set at 100,000 baht (S$4,180) for each activist.

Hundreds of activists had joined the protest at a university in Bangkok's old town, near the regional headquarters of the United Nations, to demand a general election in November.

About 3,000 police officers blocked the demonstrators from marching to Government House, the site of the Prime Minister's Office. The protesters later dispersed peacefully after the group's leaders turned themselves in.

All 15 protest leaders have been charged with sedition, violating a junta ban on political gatherings of more than five people and illegal assembly that caused violence, among other charges. They could face up to seven years in prison.

Rights group Amnesty International urged the Thai authorities to drop all charges against them.

The military government plans to meet political parties next month to discuss ground rules for the general election, among them easing curbs on political activities.

As army chief, Mr Prayut led the 2014 coup the military said was necessary to put an end to months of street protests and political gridlock.

Critics say in four years, the junta has been opaque in its financial dealings, seeded wide patronage networks and failed to address rampant corruption - despite seizing power from the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra vowing to do so.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 25, 2018, with the headline 'Protest leaders freed on bail by Thai court'. Print Edition | Subscribe