Thai ministers jailed as court finds 26 guilty of insurrection

Thai Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan and Digital Minister Puttipong Punnakanta were among those jailed. PHOTOS: REUTERS

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - A Thai court on Wednesday (Feb 24) sentenced 14 political leaders to jail, including three incumbent Cabinet ministers, after finding them guilty of insurrection during anti-government protests that culminated in a 2014 military coup.

The court found 26 of 39 defendants guilty, a lawyer for the group said, for actions that included obstructing elections and invading government property, which took place during seven months of demonstrations against the government of Yingluck Shinawatra.

Digital Minister Puttipong Punnakanta, Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan and Deputy Transport Minister Thaworn Senneam received jail terms ranging from five years to seven years and four months. According to the country's Constitution, they will be required to vacate their posts.

A government spokesman declined to give comment on jailed ministers, while the court could not be reached.

The ministers are all in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who led a coup that overthrew Yingluck in 2014, an intervention the military said was necessary to prevent bloodshed as protests against her intensified.

"They pleaded not guilty to all the charges and will appeal," said Mr Sawat Charoenpon, a lawyer representing the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), as the group is known.

PDRC leader and former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban was jailed for five years. Of those found guilty, 12 were given suspended sentences and six were released on bail.

"We the leaders of the PDRC have been convicted to many years in jail yet all of us still maintain our ideals of serving the nation, religion and King," Suthep posted on Facebook after the verdict.

The PDRC protests in 2013 and 2014 played a pivotal role in uniting royalist and nationalist forces against a government they said was controlled by fugitive tycoon and ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's exiled brother. Both Shinawatras won elections by landslides.

Mr Prayut stayed on as prime minister after the coup and retained the post after a 2019 election, which he insists was free and fair, despite opposition allegations of foul play.

The former general endured months of street protests himself last year by a youth-led movement demanding his resignation, a new Constitution and reforms to the monarchy.

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