Thai authorities arrest students opposed to military rule

AP News
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Posted: Jan 21, 2016 6:20 AM
Thai authorities arrest students opposed to military rule

BANGKOK (AP) — Authorities in Thailand have arrested members of a student group opposed to military rule, including one snatched off the street at night and bundled into a vehicle, in the latest jousting between the government and its most active opponents.

Four members of the New Democracy Movement were taken to military court on Thursday to be charged with violating an order banning groups of five or more people from gathering publicly for political purposes.

Last month, the students were blocked en route to a protest at a park built under army patronage to honor past kings. The students sought to bring attention to corruption allegations in the park's construction. They had refused to surrender themselves after warrants for their arrest were issued.

Siriwich Serithiwat, also known as "Ja New," was detained Wednesday night by unidentified men — thought to be army officers — who seized him at a busy street corner and took him into a waiting SUV. The student group released video footage purportedly of the incident, which circulated widely on social media.

Three of his colleagues were arrested when they went to the police station to lend their support. All were released later Thursday pending a court appearance. Thai media reported another member of the group was separately arrested Thursday.

Ja New, who was allowed to keep his mobile phone after his arrest, said in a posting on his group's Facebook page that he was seized by masked men, blindfolded, roughed up and threatened before being taken to a police station.

The case recalled the 2004 disappearance of Somchai Neelapaijit, a Muslim human rights lawyer, who is widely believed to have been kidnapped and killed by police officers. His remains were never found. Last month, Thailand's Supreme Court upheld the acquittal of five officers who had been found guilty of coercion and robbery in connection with the disappearance. The ruling, which hinged in part on the failure to find Somchai's body, sparked fresh calls for Thailand to pass laws to prosecute enforced disappearances.

Somchai's wife Angkhana Neelapaijit, recently appointed to Thailand's National Human Rights Commission, was quoted by the Thai PBS television station as saying that the seizure of Ja New was inappropriate because his activities were nonviolent and he had not tried to escape.

Junta spokesman Col. Winchai Suvari told reporters that Ja New's arrest was conducted in a legal manner but that some people tried to distort the information about it. He described Ja New's recent activities as socially provocative, and suggested that the authorities would watch closely those who were publicizing the incident.

The junta overthrew an elected government in May 2014 after violent political protests. Opposition to the junta has been generally muted, especially with critics facing the threat of arrest. Political cases are often prosecuted in military courts and dissidents detained at military installations for "attitude adjustment."