BANGKOK (AP) — Police in Thailand arrested several political activists who planned to camp out at the site of a rally scheduled for Wednesday in Bangkok that is along the route the country’s king is expected to travel for an unrelated royal ceremony.
The arrests Tuesday came after police started to tear down tents put up by the protesters, who had traveled to the capital from northeastern Thailand. The protesters resisted and pushed back against the police, sparking a mild brawl. Police said they initially asked the protesters to remove the tents, but were refused.
Some protesters threw blue paint at the police, which has become a tactic at recent confrontations. A protest leader, Tattep ‘Ford’ Ruangprapaikitseree, explained that using paint is a peaceful and symbolic way of fighting back when the authorities use force.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn later was driven past the site without incident to the Grand Palace, as he is scheduled to do again on Wednesday.
Wednesday’s protest has been called by a coalition of mostly student-led groups that several months ago adopted three core demands: new elections, changes in the constitution to make it more democratic and an end to intimidation of political activists.
The protesters later adopted another major demand, for reform of the monarchy, which they claim does not properly operate within the framework of a democracy.
That demand has caused a huge controversy, since the royal institution has long been considered sacrosanct and a pillar of Thai identity. It is also protected by a lese majeste law that mandates three to 15 years in prison for defaming the monarchy.
One of those arrested was a leading activist, Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, better known as Pai Dao Din, who was imprisoned for 2 1/2 years for lese majeste and violation of the Computer Crime Act for sharing online a 2016 biography of King Maha Vajiralongkorn from the Facebook page of the BBC’s Thai-language service.
City police said 21 protesters were arrested. Charges filed against them included defying police orders, violating a public gathering law invoked due to the coronavirus, obstructing public roads and violating a cleanliness law by throwing paint that spilled on to the road, as well as causing harm to the police officers by hurling the paint at them.
Most protest leaders already have been arrested previously on charges ranging from blocking streets to sedition, which is punishable by up to seven years in prison.
Although they have piled up charges against the protesters, the authorities have generally been careful not to act too harshly against them. Arrests have usually been made after protesters were summoned to turn themselves in, and in all known cases they have been released on bail.
Tuesday’s remaining protesters moved for several hours outside the national police headquarters to demand the arrested leaders be freed. The detainees were taken to the regional headquarters of the Border Patrol Police on the outskirts of Bangkok.
The protesters have said they do not intend to interfere with the passage of the king’s car through the street where they will hold their rally Wednesday, but the authorities have not made clear how they will deal with the situation. Streets are normally cleared of traffic and pedestrians put under close watch along routes traveled by the king.