Thailand's junta targets opposition for criticising election delays

Pheu Thai party member Chaturon Chaisaeng said the charges against the opposition, including flouting a ban on political activity, were "not proportionate to what happened". PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Thailand's military government has accused opposition members of flouting a ban on political activity, among other charges, after they criticised it for reneging on promises to restore democracy and protect basic rights, police said on Friday (May 18).

The military, which has ruled since a 2014 coup it said was needed to restore order after months of protests, promised a return to democratic rule within two years, but has repeatedly delayed general elections, most recently set for February 2019.

Police said the junta, formally known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), filed the charges late on Thursday after a news conference by the Puea Thai Party, founded by ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

"Yesterday, the NCPO came to file charges against the Puea Thai Party," Crime Suppression Division commander Maitri Chimcherd told Reuters.

"We just finished interrogating this morning at 5am. Police must first gather evidence and see if there is sufficient evidence to prosecute."

The party was charged with violating a ban on political activity, sedition and breaking Thailand's computer crimes act by publicising the event online, said Mr Burin Thongpraphai, chief of the junta's legal team.

Since the coup, the junta has banned gatherings of more than five people on grounds of maintaining national security.

The charges were unfair, said Mr Chaturon Chaisang, a senior member of the Puea Thai Party.

"The charges are not proportionate to what happened," he told Reuters. "They want to bully the Puea Thai Party."

Thailand is divided broadly between those backing Thaksin and his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, whose government was removed in the coup, and the elite in the capital, Bangkok.

The delays in holding elections, which some analysts have said could be pushed back yet again, have spurred protests in Bangkok in recent weeks seeking a quick return to democracy.

As the coup's fourth anniversary approaches on May 22, the junta faces a crisis of public perceptions, say international and domestic polls that show corruption as rife as ever.

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