BANGKOK— Thailand’s military is organizing a public event in support of the May 22nd coup led by the army’s chief. It is to occur Wednesday, following a series of small, illegal protests in the capital against the military regime that has voided the constitution, censored the media and imposed strict curbs on political speech.
The military has banned public gatherings of five or more people. An exception is Wednesday's army-backed entertainment-filled rally supporting the coup.
The military confirms the “Return Happiness” event - which it stresses will be "non-political" - will take place near Victory Monument, where several modest anti-coup protests have occurred.
Security forces responded heavily Sunday after a small group of protesters appeared at the Terminal 21 shopping center.
Authorities ordered it closed, forcing out thousands of customers.
“Due to a rally, this shopping center is being closed. Everyone please leave. All those not involved, media and everyone please leave the area. Please cooperate with the officials," sounded an announcement.
Outside, a crowd gathered as some gave a three-fingered salute. The gesture, featured in the “Hunger Games” movies as a sign of respect, is now seen in Bangkok as an anti-coup symbol.
Some people were removed from the area, including this woman.
Anti-coup protesters face military justice, according to army spokesman, Col. Winthai Suvaree.
“We have proceeded with various legal measures against those who violated the martial law act. Some were lectured and then released. Some who are more aggressive face legal action," said Suvaree.
Since the coup, about 300 people, so far, have been summoned to turn themselves in to the military. They include politicians, activists, academics, prominent business owners and journalists.
Pravit Rojanaphruk, a columnist for the Nation newspaper, was held for one week.
“I think it’s a reflection of the sense of insecurity, so we’re seeing a situation where the coup makers do not feel that they are fully in charge yet," said Rojanaphruk.
He says after his release he was called by an army colonel requesting he refrain from criticizing the coup on Twitter.
“He said the junta leader, General Prayuth, just needs time to sort of put the house in order and if I could stop tweeting, for a while," he said.
While some prominent figures, fearing detention, may be muting themselves online, millions of ordinary Thais are using their computers and smartphones to circumvent mainstream media censorship. That is making it relatively easy and instantaneous to organize pockets of public defiance to the coup. ”