BANGKOK — For the second time in a week, the military has intercepted a group of activists who attempted to travel to the army’s historical park said to be rife with corruption.
Sirawith Seritiwat, co-founder of the pro-democracy group Resistant Citizens, and dozens of his supporters were arrested aboard a train en route to Rajabhakti Park in Prachuap Khiri Khan province Monday morning.
The authorities employed several drastic measures to intercept the group, including cutting off the train car that Sirawith was riding, closing down the historical park “for maintenance” and threatening Sirawith’s mother on Sunday to convince her son to call off the trip.
iLaw, an NGO group that tracks legal prosecution of anti-junta activists, said on Twitter that they were told 33 people have been arrested so far.
Student protesters parody the fashion of the ‘anti-corruption’ Bangkok Shutdown movement Monday to mock their silence on the alleged graft scandal of Rajabhakti Park.
Security officers intercepted the train that the activists were boarding in Ratchaburi province.
Sirawith announced on Dec. 5 that his group would travel to the billion-baht park to highlight reports of corruption associated with the project, which was built by the Royal Thai Army from November 2014 to August 2015.
Last week, two leaders of the Redshirt movement embarked on a similar journey to the historical park, only to be arrested by soldiers southwest of Bangkok. The two activists, Jatuporn Prompan and Nattawut Saikua, were detained at an army camp and later released on the same day without any charges.
The park – a massive complex featuring giant statues of seven prominent Thai kings – has been the center of media attention since reports of financial irregularity appeared in early November.
Citing anonymous sources inside the army, the media has reported about unusually expensive materials used in the park’s construction and shady financial transactions, such as the hiring of foundries to make statues for the park via a middleman who took 10 percent cuts from the budget.
Although former army chief Udomdej Sitabutr, who oversaw the project until he retired in October, admitted that some of the allegations were true, an internal investigation by the army ruled that there was no wrongdoing in the park construction. A second investigation into the project, this time launched by the Ministry of Defense, is underway.
The incident is the most serious allegation of corruption to hit the current military government since it came to power in May 2014, as the Rajabhakti Park project was meant to honor the Thai monarchy, which is widely revered in Thailand.
Soldiers bar tourists from entering Rajabhakti Park today. The army insists the park has been closed down for maintenance issues.
Anti-coup activist Sirawith Seritiwat speaks to reporters Monday in Ratchaburi province, where soldiers stopped the train he was boarding for Rajabhakti Park.
Speaking at a news conference today, Maj. Gen. Kongcheep Tantrawanich, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, hit back at the skeptics and activists who questioned the park’s transparency by accusing them of smearing the royal monument.
“I’d like to ask for cooperation from certain groups of people who attempt to engage in a movement to cause inappropriate news about this place [Rajabhakti Park],” Kongcheep said. “I’d like to ask them not to destroy the beautiful atmosphere and [think of the] feelings of the people who keep coming to visit and pay respect to the site in droves.”
Maj. Gen. Sanya Chansanguan, commander of a regional army unit in Prachuap Khiri Khan, told Matichon that the park is closed down for purely maintenance issues and not politics. He said the park will reopen “in the next few days.”
According to social media accounts associated with the Resistant Citizens, a second group of activists is still planning to travel to Rajabhakti Park by other means of transport later today.