Two Thai protest leaders arrested as discontent rises

Activists Anon Numpa (left) and Panupong Jadnok face eight charges in total. PHOTOS: AFP, REUTERS

BANGKOK (AFP) - Thai police on Friday (Aug 7) detained two activists in the first arrests against an increasingly bold movement of young protesters calling for democracy and challenging a controversial law that protects the monarchy.

In recent weeks near daily rallies have been held at universities and town halls across the country to denounce the military-aligned government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha.

Human rights lawyer and activist Anon Numpa, 35, has been one of the most prominent at the creative protests that even included a Harry Potter-themed rally on Tuesday.

On Friday, police read out the charges before detaining Anon outside his home in Bangkok, a move captured on a video clip that quickly circulated online.

"Inciting unrest among the public... and creating chaos in the kingdom," said one of the officers surrounding Anon.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights confirmed the arrest of Anon and fellow activist Panupong Jadnok.

The group detailed eight charges in total brought against the pair for a rally held at Bangkok's Democracy Monument on July 18, including sedition and taking part in a gathering that increased the risk of spreading infection.

Protesters have been voicing their rising discontent at Prayut, whose hold on power they regard as a legacy of a royalist junta regime.

Some have even dared wade into sensitive territory by calling for reforms of Thailand's controversial lese majeste law, one of the world's harshest.

It shields the monarchy and its super-rich King Maha Vajiralongkorn from criticism and carries a sentence of up to 15 years per charge - making open scrutiny of the monarch virtually impossible.

No charges have so far been filed under the draconian law against the protesters.

News of the arrests quickly spread on social media and dozens of supporters gathered Friday evening outside Bang Khen police station, where Anon was being held.

The coronavirus pandemic has sent Thailand's economy into freefall, laying bare the inequalities of a society perceived to favour the elite, pro-military establishment.

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