LOEI — Dozens of people gathered in northeastern Thailand this morning for an unexpected rally denouncing the student activists who were arrested in Bangkok last Friday for "inciting unrest" with a peaceful pro-democracy demonstration.
Officials allowed today's rally outside of Loei City Hall to go forward, highlighting the uneven application of the junta's ban on political gatherings, which has been consistently invoked to snuff out anti-coup protests but rarely used to silence supporters of the military government.
The demonstration was led by a local administrator, Sombat Tonkam, who said the crowd of nearly 100 protesters hailed from six villages in Khao Luang subdistrict.
The demonstrators held signs condemning Dao Din, a progressive student group based in nearby Khon Kaen province that has campaigned for human rights and environmental issues in the region.
Seven university students from Dao Din were among the fourteen people arrestedin Bangkok last week for a peaceful demonstration against the ruling military junta. All fourteen are now being held in prison while they await a trial in military court on charges of inciting unrest and violating the junta’s orders. The UN and European Union urged Thailand on Tuesday to drop the charges and release the students, who are facing up to seven years in prison.
Some of the signs at today's rally in Loei said: "People of Khao Luang Don't Welcome Dao Din Group," "People of Loei province support the works of the government," and "People of Khao Luang have brains. Don't try to mislead us."
Earlier this month, the Dao Din activists visited a local activist group in Loei called Rak Baan Koed (love our homeland). For years, the Dao Din students have helped local villagers protest harmful mining operations in the province.
However, the leader of today's rally read a letter accusing the students of spreading "misunderstanding" among the people with their political campaigns.
"We ask security forces and the administration of Loei province to take legal action against Dao Din and Rak Baan Koed groups and their sympathizers," the letter said.
The Governor of Loei, Viroj Jiwarangsa, personally accepted the letter from Sombat.
"[The protesters] are here to express their stance that the two groups have incorrect actions," the governor told reporters. "They are against the feeling of a majority of people who want a peaceful and legal solution to problems, in accordance with the way of the people of Loei."
He added, "Dao Din group is from another province. Bringing a culture of conflict and political struggle to young people here is against the way of life of Loei."
Chiang Mai trio released
Meanwhile, the three people arrested in connection with a brief pro-democracy demonstration in Chiang Mai province yesterday have been released, according to a military officer.
The demonstrators wore masks during the event, which was held to express solidarity with the activists arrested in Bangkok, and left before soldiers and police arrived at the scene.
Security officers later arrested three people at a nearby cafe, but released them without charges after establishing that they were not connected to the protest, according to an army officer who requested anonymity.
"Based on the interrogation, we found that they did not have any connection to the activities, so we recorded their basic information and released them," the officer said.