On Friday afternoon, police began arresting a range of people connected to last month’s anti-government protests which erupted on Saturday, the 18th of July. The police operation appeared to be targeting protest organisers and those who spoke at the July 18th rally where up to 2,500 people turned up to start a wave of student protest activity throughout the kingdom which is still ongoing and becoming more influential.
Police arrested a number of leading activists on Friday in Bangkok linked with student demonstrations in the capital. One of those arrested was a 34-year-old lawyer who spoke last Monday night, August 3rd, at a Harry Potter teamed protest organised by a new group called ‘Free People’. During the speeches, including one given by the lawyer-activist, legal provisions linked to Thailand’s monarchy were spoken about openly by some of those who took part. On Friday, as a rally to support the detained activist was called for, police stressed the warrants executed related to earlier protest activity in July, in particular, the July 18th demonstration which took authorities somewhat by surprise. It was initially understood that seven people may be facing charges but some activists were speculating on Friday evening that the figure may be as high as thirty.
A protest rally was called urgently by democracy activists on Friday evening following the arrest in the afternoon of a prominent leader and well-known human rights lawyer, Arnon Nampa.
Mr Arnon was stopped by police outside his condominium complex in Bangkok just after 2 pm on Friday and presented with a court warrant for his arrest based on seven charges. He was taken immediately to Samran Rat police station.
Later acknowledging and signing the charges there, he was then taken by police to Bang Khen police station in northeastern Bangkok before later appearing in court.
Monday protests at Democracy Monument by ‘Free People’ had a Harry Potter theme. Heard speakers refer openly to the monarchy
The activists caused quite a stir and indeed shocked many following a rally at the Democracy Monument on Monday night where groups of students and activists gathered dressed in a Harry Potter theme.
The rally compared the current political situation in Thailand including allusions to some story plots in the world-famous books written by UK writer J.K. Rowling.
The organisers referred to themselves as ‘Free People’ as opposed to the ‘Free Youth’ protest staged on July 18th at the same venue.
However, at the protest, Mr Arnon made comments that directly impinged on the Thai Monarchy.
While stating that he was not speaking in opposition to the revered institution to which he gave his support, he called for changes in the context of Thailand’s constitution and state which since 1932 has been seen as a constitutional monarchy with the King standing above politics.
At the outset of these demonstrations, former Redshirt leaders such as the Chairman of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, Jatuporn Prompan, have urged the leadership of the current student protests to stay clear of the monarchy which they fear will only sow further division making political progress impossible.
Last month, Mr Jatuporn said such a course was for the good of the country.
Mr Arnon called for amendments to the constitution and an emphasis on more democratic principles
Mr Arnon called for amendments to the present constitution which would serve to strengthen democratic principles and in particular called for changes to the draconian Lèse-majesté law to improve human rights.
His speech was a landmark one as previously discussions even touching on such sensitive issues are usually communicated in an oblique way out of respect for the monarchy and the strongly held views of many Thais who uphold the institution as the key pillar of the nation’s stability.
Rayong banner protester among those picked up with the ‘Penguin’ reported to be consulting with lawyers
It was later revealed that at least one other protest leader was also arrested on Friday.
This was Panupong Jaadnok known by many as ‘Mike Rayong’ who unfurled a banner in Rayong some weeks ago, days before the July 18th protest during a visit by Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha which was critical of the current government.
The activist was arrested by police from Ramkhamhaeng and also taken to Bang Khen police station.
Another activist, named in an arrest warrant served upon him, was Parit Cheewarak, a student at Thammasat University.
Mr Parit was referred to by army leader General Apirat Kongsompong in colourful terms recently when speaking light-heartedly to the media.
The Thai Army Commander in Chief threatened to defeat him by deploying ‘Batman’, a reference to the activist, who has been trenchantly critical of the army, and is also known as ‘Penguin’.
Army leader General Aspirat Kongsompomg described a lack of patriotism on Wednesday as an incurable sickness at military academy ceremony
At a ceremony for army cadets on Wednesday at Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, General Apirat in conversation with a cadet reminded him that Covid 19 can be cured but that a lack of patriotism and hatred for one’s country was an incurable affliction. Cadets surrounding the army boss replied ‘Kab’ in the affirmative.
The event was also attended by the Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha, himself a former Commander-in-Chief of the Thai Army up to the 2014 coup which quelled factional strife that had crippled the country and which installed him as prime minister.
The PM was returned to power last year through the democratic process after a coalition of parties formed by the Palang Pracharat Party voted him into office.
He won majority support in the elected House of Representatives and was also unanimously approved by the Thai Upper House or Senate under the 2017 Constitution which represents the Thai establishment.
‘Penguin’ debated with supporters and his lawyers whether to give himself up to police having also been served the arrest warrant on Friday
Mr Parit, on social media on Friday, told his supporters that he had not yet been taken into custody and was in discussion with his lawyers as to whether he should surrender himself after being served with the arrest warrant detailing charges against him. He suggested that he may thwart any further attempts to arrest him.
Police have stressed to the media that the arrests and charges being brought against several people relate to a protest on Saturday 18th July organised by ‘Free Youth’ at the Democracy Monument which was the largest public protest in recent history. There are conflicting reports in this respect.
Some days later, on Tuesday, July 21st, there was a further rally outside the Royal Thai Army headquarters which riled establishment supporters and conservatives.
Calls by conservatives to take action – one charge could see protest leaders jailed for up to six years
Protests and rallies in July led to conservative activists such as Srisuwan Janya and arch royalist, Major General Rienthong Nanna, calling for tough action to be taken against those involved.
The charges being brought against the ring leaders of the rallies, who were the subject of arrest warrants on Friday, include one under Section 116 of the Criminal Code for inciting unrest or sedition.
This is the most serious charge and could see those convicted being sentenced to up to six years in prison.
The six other charges include one under the emergency decree which outlawed political gatherings up to its recent extension from August 1st.
There were three additional charges for disturbing traffic, causing uncleanliness and the use of a loudspeaker in a public place.
The other charge is under Section 215 for convening an illegal assembly in public with more than 10 people.
Formal complaint from a top government official to police about last Monday’s protest and speeches made from the stage referring to the monarchy
Observers are linking the move to arrest protestors, at this time, to a formal complaint made by Apiwat Kantong, the Vice Minister at the Office of the Prime Minister in recent days over the latest protest on Monday, August 3rd.
The senior government official complained to police that the speeches given at the event were derogatory towards the monarchy and sought to undermine its exalted position in the Thai public sphere.
On Friday, following the arrests, there was a surge in social media chatter calling for the release of the detained protest leaders.
Speaking with international news agency Reuters, Yaowalak Anuphan, of the group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights pointed out that he expected Mr Arnon to seek bail when he appears in court.
‘Arnon can only be detained no more than 48 hours before he has to be produced to the court. Then, he will likely seek bail,’ he said.
Up to 30 people fear arrest
An extended list of up to 30 people has been published online and includes some key figures in the Free Youth protests since July 18th including Mr Tattep Ruangprapaikitseree of Chulalongkorn University as well as all those who spoke at the event on July 18th last in central Bangkok including musicians and singers.
The arrests appear to have taken those involved by surprise and prompted speculation as to who may be on the list for prosecution.
The first two arrested appeared in court on Friday evening. It is now thought that five more are being sought by authorities including ‘Penguin’ according to security sources.
At Friday evening’s rally, among those taking part was Mr Parit or the ‘Penguin’ who had not yet offered himself up for arrest.
Arrested duo, in court, waive bail application
On Friday evening Mr Arnon and Mr Panupong or ‘Mike Rayong’ opted to stay in prison despite an offer from opposition MPs to use their position in order to provide surety for the pair.
They will now spend at least the weekend incarcerated.
‘I am willing to sacrifice my freedom to stand by my principles,’ Mr Arnon wrote in a social media statement. ‘Don’t waste your time on freeing Arnon. Use your time to fight for the goals we are fighting for.’