BANGKOK — Four student activists were arrested today on the 83rd anniversary of the revolution that established democracy in Thailand, which is now being ruled by a military junta.
The first set of arrests took place at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue at around 7 am. Three members of pro-democracy student activist network – Piyarat Jongthep, Pongsapat Niyama, and Sukrit Piansuwan – were detained by police after they arrived with a bouquet of flowers at the monument, which was built in 1939 to commemorate the overthrow of absolute monarchy in 1932.
The university students were taken to Samranrat Police Station, where officers attempted to fine Piyarat for not carrying national ID card, but dropped the charges when he showed that he was in fact carrying the card.
Police officers then said they arrested the group for carrying a bouquet of flowers to Democracy Monument, which constituted a "symbolic political act" and therefore falls under the junta's ban on all political activities.
The activists were later released without charges.
Another student activist, 21-year-old Nachacha Kongudom, posted on her Facebook account that police officers arrived at Vibhavadi Hospital where she was receiving treatment for an unspecified illness and took her away.
According to Nachacha, the officers said they were there to arrest her for violating the junta's ban on protests when she joined an anti-coup rally in Bangkok on 22 May 2015.
Nachacha and eight other students have been charged with the offence, but have refused to surrender to police as an act of civil disobediance. They are now facing trial in martial court.
Kunthika Nutcharus, a legal adviser to Nachacha, posted on her Facebook that police officers initially said they were taking Nachacha to Pathumwan Police Station, but changed direction and headed for the martial court instead.
The arrests came several hours after a group of activists gathered at the Royal Plaza in Bangkok at around 6am to commemorate the 1932 revolution. The activists took turns reading poems in tribute to the revolution, and laid flowers at the plaque marking the spot where a leader of the 1932 coup proclaimed the beginning of democracy in Thailand, which was then known as Siam.
Police officers observed the commemoration but did not interfere with the activists.
Democracy has been suspended in Thailand since the military toppled an elected government in May 2014. Since the coup, the junta has extensively curtailed civil rights and clamped down on the opposition, mostly by banning political activities of any kind, censoring the media, and trying dissidents in martial court, where military officers serve as judges.
Junta chairman and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has continued to push back the date for national elections, but now says a poll will be held in September 2016 at the earliest – given that the new constitution, which is being drafted under the junta's oversight, is approved in an upcoming referendum.
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