BANGKOK (AP) — A 77-year-old retired schoolteacher in Thailand was stopped as he was leaving the country on vacation and arrested on sedition charges for giving flowers to an anti-military protester earlier this year, officials said Tuesday.
A lawyer for Preecha Kaewbanpaew said his client gave flowers to, and briefly walked with, one of four demonstrators who staged a peaceful protest in March against the use of military courts to try civilians. The practice, mainly for political offenses, began last year after the army overthrew an elected civilian government.
The broadly defined sedition law provides for up to seven years in prison for inciting unrest. Preecha was arrested Sunday and released on bail by a military court on Monday after spending the night at a police station, police Col. Rangsan Praditpol said.
Thailand's ruling junta has clamped down on dissent, saying it is restoring order after almost a decade of sometimes-violent domestic political conflict.
Preecha was also charged with violating a law established by the junta banning political gatherings of more than five people, even though he was just one of a small crowd that watched the protesters. The ban is inconsistently enforced.
Winthai Chatmontri, a lawyer for Free Thai Legal Aid, said Preecha said he just gave flowers to Pansak Srithep, a pro-democracy activist and father of a man who was fatally shot during anti-government protests in 2010, and was following the crowd when a policeman convinced him to give him his phone number.
Preecha only learned about the charges and an arrest warrant against him when he was stopped by immigration police before leaving the country for Laos on vacation, Winthai said.
This story has been corrected to show that there were four protesters instead of three.