Police seek alleged backers behind anti-junta protests
AUTHORITIES WARN ABOUT ‘FOREIGN INSTIGATORS’ AS SEVEN ACTIVISTS TARGETED
POLICE ARE ATTEMPTING to determine whether anyone financed recent protests by anti-junta activists, a deputy national police chief said yesterday.
Amid the crackdown on protesters, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday continued to insist he was willing to listen to everyone’s voice.
The prime minister said in a weekly press briefing that he understood that protesters had their own reasons to rally publicly, but he warned them against violating the law.
Prayut also said he listened to all groups of people. Regarding the delay in the next election that protesters opposed, he said it would certainly bring advantages and disadvantages to different groups of people but he did not think the government would benefit.
Pol General Sriwara Ransibhramanakul, the deputy police commissioner-general in charge of security affairs, said investigators would summon seven activists who had been accused of violating the junta ban on political gatherings and instigating disturbances.
He said the ongoing police investigation could lead to more suspects being called in, but he declined to disclose a number.
His comments came after Colonel Burin Thongprapai, an official with the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), filed a complaint at Pathum Wan Police Station against seven activists who organised a rally last Saturday on the skywalk above the Pathum Wan intersection.
The demonstration, which included more than 100 participants, called for a general election by November, as had been promised by Prayut. The seven activists are Rangsiman Rome, Sirawit Sereethiwat, Nattha Mahatthana, Anon Nampha, Ekachai Hongkangwan, Sukrit Piansuwan and Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, most of whom are members of the Democracy Restoration Group.
Sirawit yesterday asked “people power” to rise up against the “NCPO dictators”.
He said in his Facebook message that, “On February 10 I will never back off,” referring to the date of a planned rally by anti-junta activists at the Democracy Monument.
However, Netiwit said in a Facebook message yesterday that he had joined Saturday’s rally as a citizen, and not as an affiliate of any group. “I feel honoured to be one of the seven accused,” he added.
Sriwara said yesterday that police were investigating to determine who was behind this “regular” group of protesters, but he declined to provide further details.
“Wait until arrest warrants are approved by the court, and you will know. The supporters are no mystery. They are behind the gatherings in five to six areas,” he said.
As the activists were being charged with political assembly, Prayut yesterday said the government was not guilty of discrimination. For example, he said, he had also been criticised by the media and yet had not prohibited their coverage.
“Don’t create misunderstandings. It is reported to the international community and now they view that the government as discriminatory,” Prayut said to Government House reporters.
He said activists should consider whether their rallies affected peace in society, adding that actions should be in line with the law.
“The Administrative Court has already granted an injunction [to the We Walk marchers]. Now try not to violate the law,” he said, apparently referring to activists marching to Khon Kaen to address public policy issues.
Prayut also advised people to look at the motives of the activists, while adding that he did not want to be in conflict with anyone.
He also admitted that the government’s popularity was in decline, saying it was common for every government in its fourth year of ruling. But the government would try to work hard and serve the people, he said.
Meanwhile, Sriwara yesterday met Pathum Wan district chief Nawaporn Klinbuakaew, who maintained that the rally site at Pathum Wan intersection was a public area. Police said protests were prohibited in the area under the Public Rally Act because it is located less than 150 metres from royal premises.
The case’s chief investigator, Pol Lt-Colonel Samak Panyawong, yesterday said the seven accused had been summoned to meet with police on Friday to be formally notified of charges against them. If they fail to meet with the investigators after being summoned twice, arrest warrants would be issued against them, he added.
Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan yesterday said authorities would rely on relevant laws and junta orders in dealing with protesters. He also noted that the junta was still in power and its ban against political gatherings of more than four people remained in effect.
“I have measures to take care of them. According to the intelligence, there is only one group [of anti-junta protesters]”, Prawit said.
Meanwhile, the National Security Council (NSC) was looking into reported moves by “hardline” groups and “foreign instigators” in support of the activists, NSC secretary-general General Wanlop Raksanoh said yesterday.
“We are trying to verify the reports,” he said, adding that there should be no problem as long as their acts were not against the law.