Rights group urges Thailand to release student activists


Warns that arrest of 14 protesting for end to military rule shows junta’s ‘unwillingness to ease its oppressive rule’

By CS Thana

BANGKOK – An international human rights organization called Saturday for the immediate release of 14 Thai students who were arrested after participating in protests against military rule.

The students were taken into custody late Friday after joining three-day rallies calling for an end to the junta’s rule and a return to democracy after last year’s coup.

Those arrested face up to seven years in jail on charges of sedition under article 116 of the penal code, as well as another six-month prison term for ignoring a military order prohibiting political gatherings of more than five people.

Human Rights Watch criticized their capture, warning Saturday that it signified the junta’s “unwillingness to ease its oppressive rule.”

“While insisting they aren’t dictators, the Thai generals have used the military courts as a central feature of their crackdown against peaceful criticism and political dissent,” said Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director.

The students are reportedly in custody at the Bangkok Remand Prison and a women’s correctional facility until they appear before a military court.

Since coming into power in May 2014, Thailand’s military government has cracked down on dissent and civil liberty. The military argues that such measures are necessary to ensure “national security” and a smooth transition back to democracy.

Human Rights Watch warned that the right to a fair trial was challenged due to all aspects of military courts functioning under Thailand’s defense ministry.

The statement comes after another earlier this year also calling on authorities to drop charges against activists facing charges in military court for violating the martial law ban.

“The Thai military junta should immediately stop arresting and prosecuting peaceful critics and end the trial of civilians in military courts,” Adams had said in a March statement on the arrest of four members of a group called Resistant Citizen.

According to HRW, at least 700 people — mostly political dissidents — have appeared before military courts since the coup against the government of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Meanwhile, at least 80 people have been arrested for organizing or joining in gatherings exceeding the permitted number of participants.

Martial law was declared shortly before the May 22 coup, with the junta’s National Council for Peace and Order replacing civilian courts with military ones – where there is no right to appeal — for some offenses.