FOUR WANTED pro-democracy activists yesterday demonstrated that they had no fear of the junta, as one of them stepped out of his house to be arrested and the others appeared at a public assembly under the eyes of hundreds of police officers.
Activist Ekachai Hongkangwan was visited at his house in Bangkok’s Lat Phrao district following an arrest warrant issued against him. He faces charges of violating a junta order and the public assembly bill, and sedition.
Charges were pressed against him for joining an assembly on January 27 held near MBK shopping centre, which called on the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to hold the long-delayed election.
He was arrested yesterday hours before his planned attendance at another pro-election assembly near Democracy Monument.
The other three activists – Rangsiman Rome, Sirawit Serithiwat and Anon Nampa – joined in the assembly, even though they were also wanted by police on the same charges.
The three took turns in making an hour-long speech, but had not been arrested by press time last night.
Pol Colonel Phitak Sutthikul, superintendent of Chana Songkhram Police Station, said that more than 300 police officers were deployed to keep the situation in order around the monument compound. “We would need to arrest them as obliged by criminal law,” Phitak said.
On Friday night, less than a day before yesterday afternoon’s assembly, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration surrounded the monument with decorative plants and temporary fences.
Policemen also set up checkpoints to obtain IDs and names of assembly participants, some of whom were reluctant to cooperate.
More than a hundred of people, many of whom appeared to be red-shirt protesters, joined in the assembly that called not only for an election this year but also for the NCPO to “stop prolonging its stay in power”.
“We ultimately want democracy to return to this country,” Rangsiman said in addressing the assembly through a speaker. “We want neither the junta nor free-rider politicians. The junta has taken over the country for almost four years. We people fight, but where are the politicians?
“If you don’t stand with people at this hard time, don’t expect us to cast votes for you in the next election.”
Yesterday’s assembly was intended to kick-start a series of rallies against a decision by junta-appointed legislators last month to postpone promulgation of the MP election bill, which made an election unlikely to happen before February next year.
This was only months after Prayut himself promised that an election would be held by this November – although he later denied that he had said such a thing.
The two-hour assembly contained some shouting from angry participants, but was generally peaceful.
Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch who observed the event, said that peaceful assembly is considered a fundamental right and freedom, and should be allowed by state authorities.
“What causes us concern is the arrest warrants against the activists,” Sunai said. “This reflects a lack of tolerance of political differences from the junta government and the NCPO.”
Sunai noted that the four activists were facing charges under the Criminal Code’s Article 116 on sedition. Conviction on this charge could land them in jail for to up to seven years.
“Suppressing political opinions is not good given the government’s claimed commitment to follow the road map [to democracy],” he added. “To outsiders’ eyes, this could rather be viewed as road map to prolong power.”