Thai pro-democracy activists arrested

A protester being arrested by police near Government House in Bangkok yesterday. The group behind the march is calling for polls later this year, after the military government had repeatedly pushed back the general election after initially promising
A protester being arrested by police near Government House in Bangkok yesterday. The group behind the march is calling for polls later this year, after the military government had repeatedly pushed back the general election after initially promising to hold it in 2015.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Protesters blocked from marching to push for elections on 4th anniversary of military coup

As many as seven pro-democracy activists were arrested after being blocked by the police from marching yesterday to the Prime Minister's Office to demand that the military government hold a general election by November.

This, as Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha reiterated that the election will take place in "early 2019 and no sooner".

About 500 demonstrators had gathered at Thammasat university in Bangkok for the planned march to Government House. But the march barely moved after protesters found themselves stuck at a police barricade in front of the university.

Government House and its surrounding streets had been declared a no-go zone by the police for the opposition march, meant to mark four years since a coup toppled the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra on May 22, 2014.

The group behind the march, whose members call themselves "People who want an election", is calling for polls later this year, after the military government repeatedly pushed back the general election after initially promising to hold it in 2015.

An estimated 200 to 300 demonstrators spent Monday night at Thammasat University's Tha Prachan campus near the Grand Palace to prepare for the next morning's march, only to be stopped by police barricades in front of the university's gate.

A stand-off followed, as both the police and the protesters urged the other side to retreat.

  • Friction goes back to Thaksin era

  • Thailand has been rocked by pro-and anti-government street protests for more than a decade, some of them deadly.

    The fissure is caused by a stand-off over former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose reforms a decade ago created a serious rift between the largely rural north and urban power-holders.

    Thaksin was toppled in a military coup in 2006 before fleeing abroad. His sister Yingluck took power in 2011, but was ousted in another military coup on May 22, 2014, following months of street protests and political gridlock. She, too, fled before being convicted in absentia of corruption.

    The coup was led by current Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who draws backing from an arch-royalist Bangkok elite. The military says it was forced to carry out the 2014 coup to end the cycle of violence, heal Thailand's caustic politics and reboot an economy cramped by corruption and protest.

    REUTERS, WASHINGTON POST

Some protesters pushed the police line, leading to minor scuffles with police battalion officers.

The situation cooled down after it started to rain. Still, both sides remained locked in a stand-off. One protester was taken to hospital.

There were reports that protesters who did not spend the night at Thammasat gathered on the outer areas of Rattanakosin Island, Bangkok's historical quarter which houses the Grand Palace, Sanam Luang ground and the Government House, in order to join the protesters later.

Housewife Kanokwan, 58, who declined to provide her last name, said she turned up at the protest as she believed an election would lead Thailand to prosperity.

Some held Thai flags and others held signs with cartoons of Mr Prayut as Pinocchio, after the Prime Minister repeatedly postponed the general election.

The Thai authorities had earlier vowed to suppress the hardcore elements of the "red-shirts", or supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whom they say might use the pro-election protest to incite violence.

Protests against military rule have taken place intermittently in Bangkok since the start of the year as Thailand looks set for a chaotic period ahead of the election slated for February next year.

On Monday, eight members of the Puea Thai, a Shinawatra-backed political party which won a landslide victory in the 2011 election, were charged with sedition under Article 116 of the Criminal Code for holding a press conference last Thursday, criticising the junta ahead of the fourth anniversary of the coup.

The United Nations Human Rights Office yesterday released a statement calling for the immediate release of the activists.

"We have consistently urged the Royal Thai Government, as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to fully respect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly," said the statement.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2018, with the headline 'Thai pro-democracy activists arrested'. Print Edition | Subscribe