Thailand: Arrests on coup anniversary are a stark reminder of ongoing repression

The arbitrary arrests of students and anti-coup activists in at least three separate incidents today in Thailand’s capital Bangkok and the north-eastern city of Khon Kaen come as a stark reminder of the ongoing intolerance of peaceful dissent a year into military rule, Amnesty International said today.

“A full year since the Thai military declared martial law and took power, we are seeing how peaceful dissent is still being steamrolled in the streets,” said Richard Bennett, Asia-Pacific Programme Director at Amnesty International.

A full year since the Thai military declared martial law and took power, we are seeing how peaceful dissent is still being steamrolled in the streets.
Richard Bennett, Asia-Pacific Programme Director at Amnesty International

“Peaceful protesters must not be arbitrarily arrested or detained just because they raise uncomfortable topics or defy military rule. Anyone held merely for peacefully exercising their human right to freedom of expression must be released immediately and unconditionally and all charges dropped.

“The authorities must respect and even protect peaceful dissent and lift draconian restrictions on expression and assembly in Thailand – in law and practice.”

At around 6:20 pm local time, police detained 20 students and activists in Bangkok, who were about to carry out a peaceful, symbolic protest against the 2014 coup at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, one of the first sites of spontaneous anti-coup protests last year. Police have denied the group access to lawyers, stating that they are awaiting orders from senior officers. At least two activists are reported to have sustained injuries during the arrest and require medical attention.

In a separate incident in Bangkok at 3 pm today, soldiers and police arrested a student, a pro-democracy activist and a taxi driver at a metro station. They were held at a Bangkok police station and later released.

All three belong to Resistant Citizen, a political protest group, and were on their way to file a criminal complaint at the capital’s criminal court against General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the current Prime Minister, for staging last year’s coup. The group had made their plans public in days preceding the anniversary of the coup. Other members of the group have been detained before for peaceful acts of symbolic protest in the country – including university student Sirawit Serithiwat, Pansak Srithep, whose son was killed by the army during the crackdown on protests in 2010, and taxi driver Wannakiet Chusuwan.

In a third incident, at least seven people were arrested in Khon Kaen, north-eastern Thailand, at the city’s Democracy Monument at around 1 pm, after seven protesters staged a peaceful protest against the coup and forcible evictions of rural communities in extractive and developmental projects. The protesters all belong to Dao Din, a student activist group, and are believed to include members previously arrested for flashing the three-finger “Hunger Games” salute during a speech by General Prayuth in Khon Kaen in November 2014.

News footage shows plainclothes officers breaking up today’s protest before the activists’ arrest. The Dao Din activists were first taken to a military camp and are now being held at a police station in Khon Kaen.

These are just the latest episodes in the Thai authorities’ continuing repression of public dissent in the country, where many people face imprisonment if they engage in political activities. Authorities have granted themselves extensive powers to restrict and deny rights in the name of security – it is high time that they allowed people to peacefully exercise their rights to dissent.
Richard Bennett

“These are just the latest episodes in the Thai authorities’ continuing repression of public dissent in the country, where many people face imprisonment if they engage in political activities. Authorities have granted themselves extensive powers to restrict and deny rights in the name of security – it is high time that they allowed people to peacefully exercise their rights to dissent,” said Richard Bennett.