BANGKOK — Sunday’s rally against the government took an unexpected finale when the leaders challenged police officers to arrest them, an offer the police refused.
At the last moments of the protest at the Democracy Monument, some of the activists marked for arrests for their roles in the anti-government movement walked to the nearby Samranrat Police Station to present themselves to officers, but the police declined on the grounds of “safety.”
“It was nighttime and there were a lot of people,” metro police commander Phukphong Phongpetra said. “We were afraid that if we arrested them, it could cause unrest. We gave importance to the safety of our citizens.”
At least 31 people were marked for arrests on charges related to the anti-government rally they organized on July 18, according to media reports.
Three were already arrested, including Arnon Nampa, Tattep Ruangprapaikitseree, and Parit Chiwarak, though they were later released while their trial was ongoing. Arrest warrants were also issued for 12 other campaigners, and efforts to apply for warrants on the rest are underway.
The activists had previously dared officers earlier on Sunday night to come up onstage to clarify the charges, but there was no response.
“I give five minutes for the police to clarify the charges and present the warrants, here, on this stage,” activist Tattep said.
The group then marched, arm in arm, to the police station about 800 meters away.
After the police turned them away, they retreated to the nearby plaza under the Giant Swing, where they waited for half an hour after midnight as their lawyers talked with the police. The activists dispersed at around 0.30am after police officers failed to give any answers regarding their fate.
“We have sent two attorneys to the police station to discuss with the police about what they are planning to do,” Arnon said. “If they’re going to arrest us, they will need to seek court permission for detention within the next 48 hours. If not, we can present ourselves and the police can grant bail at the station.”
“Those who are named in the list are still innocent,” added Arnon, who works as a lawyer.
As many as 20,000 people were present at the latest rally against PM Prayut Chan-o-cha’s administration on Sunday, which appeared to be the largest political assembly since the 2014 coup that brought Gen. Prayut to power.
The rally was held simultaneously with the smaller group of hardline monarchy supporters who occupied the opposite side of the iconic monument.
They vowed to observe anti-government protesters for any act deemed to be unlawful or libelous toward the monarchy. In spite of concerns about possible clashes, the rallies went generally peaceful without any incident.
The anti-government protesters, who called themselves The Free People Movement, repeated the three core demands they made on the July 18 rally, which include the dissolution of the House, an end to harassment of government critics, and a new charter.
The protesters also pressed three additional demands of no national unity government, no coup, and upholding Thailand as a constitutional monarchy.
Other causes such as the LGBT rights, the abortion rights, and self-determination of the Pattani people were also raised on the stage.
The activists pledged to return to Ratchadamnoen Avenue in September if the government refused to consider their demands.