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Thai Junta Charges 50 Anti-Government Activists

Thai activists participate in a protest near the Democracy monument in Bangkok, Thailand, Feb. 10, 2018.
Thai activists participate in a protest near the Democracy monument in Bangkok, Thailand, Feb. 10, 2018.

Thailand's military government has filed criminal charges against 50 activists over a recent protest in which they demanded the army give up power and restore civilian rule through elections, a lawyers' group said Friday.

The Lawyers Association of Thailand said Friday that seven leading activists were charged with sedition and 43 others with violating a ban on political assembly for the February 10 demonstration, in which 400 people participated. They were charged earlier this week, but as of Friday morning there had been no public announcement and at least some of those charged had not been notified.

The lawyers' group said the charges were meant to protect the military's position and threaten those who criticize it.

The military ousted an elected government in May 2014. It has pushed back promised dates for new polls several times.

The junta uses a number of measures to discourage dissent, such as a ban on political gatherings of more than five people, which are punishable by up to a year in prison. Sedition, defined as illicit efforts to bring about change in the country's laws, is punishable by up to seven years in prison.

It is the second time in less than a month that the junta has charged the same group of young activists, some of whom have been charged multiple times for their nonviolent political activities.

Thai courts rejected police requests to detain nearly three dozen activists over the same two charges last week, saying the protesters had cooperated with authorities and were not a flight risk.

Narinpong Jinapuck, president of the Lawyers Association of Thailand, said the latest charges were filed by Col. Burin Tongprapai, a junta representative who has filed various charges against the military's political opponents.

“These activists gathered to ask for their rights in line with the democratic process and within the framework of the constitution that protects them,” Narinpong said. “They asked for elections, not anything else.”

“The group says that you must live up to your word and hold elections in November 2018 as promised, that is the stance that we share with the student activists,” Narinpong said.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Kruea-ngam said Friday that elections could take place in March 2019 or even later depending on legal technicalities. He said a definitive poll date would be announced next month.

Thailand's military seized power with a promise to undertake political reforms and stamp out corruption, but public support has waned as the ruling generals have been tied to several corruption scandals of their own.