BANGKOK — Thai junta leader and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is urging all dissidents of his military regime to return from exile and face prosecution in Thailand.
"I want all Thais to return home," Gen. Prayuth said yesterday after returning from an international summit in Italy. "All of those who are facing charges should return home. If you are not guilty, no one can punish you."
Scores of politicians and activists opposed to the junta fled Thailand shortly after the military staged a coup against the elected government on 22 May. Many of them have been charged with failing to report to the junta after the coup, which could land them six months behind bars. Others have been accused of insulting the monarchy, a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison in Thailand.
"Please come back to go through justice system in Thailand,” Gen. Prayuth said yesterday. “I will give you fairness. I will instruct the Ministry of Justice to take care of you.
The most prominent dissidents in exile include former minister Charupong Ruengsuwan, who has founded an anti-coup organisation in exile called "Free Thais," and activist Junya Yimprasert, who recently joined a demonstration against Gen. Prayuth during his visit in Milan last week.
One of the fugitives, former Pheu Thai MP Apiwan Wiriyachai, died in exile in the Philippines in earlier this month.
"Please come home,” Gen. Prayuth said in his plea yesterday. “Living abroad is not comfortable at all, unlike living in Thailand.”
The politicians and activists that stayed in Thailand were summoned and detained for several days in military camps after the coup, reportedly for "attitude adjustment." The detainees, of which there were hundreds, were forced to sign an agreement not to participate in any political activities upon their release.
It's unlikely that Thailand's political fugitives will return to the Kingdom, as they are likely to face trial in military court, where appeals are not permitted.
In addition, many political prisoners in Thailand are denied bail during their court trials, such as the two theatre activists who are currently awaiting trial for charges of lese majeste (insulting the monarchy).
Since staging the coup on 22 May, the junta's National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has banned all public protests against the regime. It has also curtailed press freedom and stepped up efforts to crackdown on perceived "threats to the monarchy."
Nevertheless, Gen. Prayuth said he informed other foreign delegates at the summit in Milan that despite the current restrictions on free speech and the lack of an elected government, Thailand is still a functioning democracy.
"I stressed to them that we still have democracy, because we don't ban everything," Gen. Prayuth explained. "We only ban issues that affect national security."