Share story

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s ruling military junta has filed charges against seven democracy activists for calling for elections and an end to military rule.

Police Lt. Col. Samak Panyawong said Tuesday that a junta representative had filed charges of sedition and violating a ban on political gatherings against the activists, who demonstrated on Saturday.

Thailand has been under military rule since a 2014 coup ousted an elected government. One of many oppressive laws the junta has imposed is a ban on political gatherings of over five people. Sedition, or illicit efforts to bring about change in the country’s laws, is punishable by up to seven years in prison.

The junta has pushed back several promised election deadlines, and recently indicated that polls intended for 2018 may be delayed, causing unusual public concern. The concern comes on top of a scandal involving many ultra-expensive watches possessed by a top junta member whose pay could not account for his ownership. The junta took power with a vow to purge corruption from politics.

“The world’s history is proof that people’s rights and liberties are never easily granted,” Rangsiman Rome, one of the charged activists and protest group leaders, said at Saturday’s demonstration in Bangkok that was joined by around 200 people. He said he would attend the next protest scheduled for Feb. 10, also in Bangkok.

Another charged activist, Anon Nampa, who is a civil rights lawyer, said Tuesday that he expects to receive a police summons via mail in the next few days, although he hasn’t seen the official charges against him yet.

“The military dictatorship filed charges to arrest democracy activists on the grounds of violating the dictatorship’s orders,” Anon said in a Facebook post Tuesday. “It’s funny. Not only do these people have no shame, they’re also confused and lost in their generation.”

The other charged activists are also outspoken critics of the ruling junta: Sirawit Seritiwat, Nutta Mahatana, Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, Ekachai Hongkangwan and Sukrid Peansuwan.

Sunai Phasuk, senior Thailand researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the charges show that the ruling junta has no intention of restoring democracy, which it said was its goal when it seized power.

“How can the junta claim they are leading Thailand to a restoration of democracy when a peaceful exercise of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association are denied and exercising such rights is considered a serious crime of sedition?” Sunai said. “This shows the true colors of the junta, that they continue to act with dictatorial instincts.”