Rapper, Activists Charged With Sedition, More Arrests May Follow

Arnon Nampha on Aug. 20, 2020.

BANGKOK — Five anti-government activists, including a rapper, were arrested in the last 24 hours and charged with insurrection for their roles in a recent protest.

The arrests took place on Wednesday night and continued through this morning, an operation condemned by a human rights activist as a gesture of PM Prayut Chan-o-cha’s insincerity. The police spokesman also declined to say whether more arrests will follow.

“I can’t answer the question now,” Col. Kissana Phathanacharoen said.

Up to 31 people are marked for either arrest or questioning in what appeared to be a police document leaked to social media earlier this month.

Those arrested include civil rights lawyer and activist, singer from “Rap Against Dictatorship” Dechathorn Bamrungmuang, and Assembly of the Poor leader Baramee Chaiyarat.

Dechathorn Bamrungmuang on Aug. 20, 2020.

The others were identified as Suwanna Tallek and Korakot Saengyephan.

All of them were charged with inciting sedition, violating health regulations, traffic offenses, and other minor charges for their large protest on July 18. The protesters call for a new election, a more democratic charter, and an end to harassment of government critics.

Protest leaders triggered controversy earlier this month when they expanded their original agenda, publicly criticizing Thailand’s constitutional monarchy and issuing a 10-point manifesto calling for its reform.

Their action was virtually unprecedented, as the monarchy is considered sacrosanct and any criticism is normally kept private. A lese majeste law calls for a prison sentence of up to 15 years for anyone found guilty of defaming the king.

One of the activists who allegedly made critical remarks, Arnon, was also charged with sedition and violation of a public assembly law for participating in a Harry Potter-themed protest on Aug. 3.

As of 10.50am Thursday, the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights group reported that the Criminal Court has granted permission for police to search Arnon’s residence for evidence.

Police set up barricades and a notice saying that protests may violate the laws at the Criminal Court on Aug. 20, 2020.

Human Rights Watch senior researcher Sunai Phasuk said on the phone Thursday that the series of arrests suggests PM Prayut was not sincere when he said he was willing to listen to the protesters.

“There should be no charge and criminalization from the beginning,” Sunai said. “This government is acting on authoritarian intent. The ongoing arrests of activists, students, and now a singer show that Prayut’s promises to listen to their voices is nothing but a lie.”

The administration’s image has been tarnished by corruption scandals for which no one has been held accountable.

The economy also has struggled to compete with its neighbors, even before the heavy damage inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic, which ravaged the tourism industry, the top foreign currency earner.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press