Thai activists answer summonses over army headquarters rally

BANGKOK (AP) — Four prominent Thai anti-government activists answered summonses at a Bangkok police station yesterday, the latest in a series of legal moves by the authorities to clamp down on protests that are the most serious challenge yet to Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha’s administration.

The activists are facing charges over holding a rally at the army headquarters last month, in violation of an emergency decree banning public gatherings because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is a form of harassment by the dictator government,” civil rights lawyer Arnon Nampha, who has emerged as one of the leaders of the protest movement, said as he arrived at the station to answer the summons.

“Every country that has a dictator government uses legal tactics like this to harass the people. We are ready to fight in court or on the street until we win victory.”

Parit Chiwarak, one of the other activists who appeared at the station, said they had done nothing wrong.

“We affirm that what we do is legal,” he said. “The emergency decree isn’t acceptable as a law. How are we in an emergency situation?” By imposing strict controls on activity at the height of the outbreak in the spring, including overnight curfews, Thailand has managed to keep the coronavirus under control, with only 3,397 confirmed cases and 58 deaths.

No local transmissions of the virus have been reported since late May.

“When they announced the emergency decree, they said it was because of COVID-19,” Parit said.

“Now it’s clear it isn’t because of COVID but because of the protests.” Two other activists also appeared at the station. A fifth who had been summoned, Panupong Jadnok, was arrested on Monday for taking part in another protest. His lawyer said he was facing six charges related to an August 10 rally at Thammasat University in Pathum Thani province, just north of Bangkok, where Panupong gave a speech.

Activist Parit Chiwarak, rear center, talks to reporter as he arrives at the Nangloeng police station in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, Aug, 25, 2020. Photo: AP

After Arnon stepped out of the police station, a group of officers from Pathum Thani read him a warrant and put him into a waiting van.

According to the reading of the warrant, Arnon is facing several charges — including sedition and endangering public health — related to his part in the August 10 rally.

The three other activists came out together about 10 minutes later. More than 30 prominent figures in the movement have legal charges against them, in what appears to be an attempt to defeat the demonstrations by decapitating its leadership.

The protests are building into the most serious threat yet to Prayuth’s rule. He first took power in a military coup in 2014, when he was the army chief, and retained it in a 2019 election widely seen as rigged to all but guarantee his victory.