Thai junta snatch rare dissenter in crowded street

The military will probably be involved in politics for years to come. Source: Wikimedia

A student activist was apprehended from a Bangkok street, thrown into a car and assaulted by soldiers, claims his lawyer. The incident was captured by a security camera.

Widely circulated video appears to show three uniformed troops grabbing Sirawitch Sereethiwat on a crowded street outside his university on Wednesday.

The student, who has repeatedly criticised the junta since it seized power in May 2014, can be seen being driven away in front of numerous bystanders.

He was charged on Thursday at a Bangkok police station with violating a junta ban on protests and political gatherings, said Pawinee Chumsri of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

Sirawitch, also known as Ja New, said he was blindfolded, slapped and kicked by soldiers.

“He was abducted and physically assaulted,” Pawinee said. “This is an enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention. It’s illegal.”

Three other students, who are all members of the New Democracy Movement, were later arrested when they visited the police station and now face action in a military court.

They were charged with planning a protest at the controversial multi-million dollar Ratchapakdi Park built by the military near the resort town of Hua Hin.

The project has been dogged by corruption allegations, which the seven, 14-metre-high statues reportedly costing US$1.7 million each.

The group has tried embarrassed the generals with protests and a social-media campaign in defiance of the junta ban.

Elsewhere there have been relatively few protests against the military as people have seen increasingly scant regard paid to human rights.

A junta spokesperson confirmed the arrest but denied the allegations of assault.

“He was treated leniently and in accordance with the law, there was no violence,” Colonel Winthai Suvaree said, adding that the activists had “refused to cooperate” with the authorities.

Col Winthai said Siriwitch was trying to “provoke the authorities”.

People who oppose the junta are routinely accused of being allied to self-exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire who still carries mass support in the nation’s north and northeast.

Thaksin and his parties have won every Thai general election since 2001, but have endured two coups and the removal by the courts of three prime ministers.

His sister Yingluck was expelled from office by a court ruling days before the May 2014 coup.

The military claimed it had to intervene to restore peace after protests in Bangkok against Yingluck’s government but has been reluctant to allow fresh elections to be held.

Analysts believe the military is keen to be in power when King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 88 and in poor health, dies.

The army is promising its draft constitution will be “strong medicine” while if it fails to pass a referendum, military rule might be extended.

Meechai Ruchupan, 77, chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, said the constitution aimed to solve long-running problems, such as abuse of power by parliamentarians.

“If we are to reform the country, we have to use strong medicine, even if political parties do not agree,” Meechai said. “I can’t promise it will be Thailand’s last constitution.”

The military does not seem keen to remove itself from power.