Thai activists demand junta to release students

Thai activists demand junta to release students
Protesters are detained by policemen during a protest in central Bangkok May 22, 2015. Thai authorities detained dozen of activists protesting against military rule on Friday, a year after the army seized power from an elected government. The military has quashed public demonstrations and any sign of resistance to the May 22, 2014, coup which it says it was forced to undertake to end violence between rival factions.
PHOTO: Reuters

A group of leading academics and activists yesterday demanded that 14 arrested student activists be immediately released and called on the public to stand up to the junta.

The group of 53 academics and activists, calling themselves People Behind the Neo Democracy Movement, issued a statement to demand that the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) return power to the people.

Earlier yesterday, Deputy Defence Minister General Udomdej Sitabutr threatened to take action against those behind the anti-government movement led by the Neo Democracy Movement (NDM), the group the 14 arrested students belong to, which consists mainly of university students.

More than 50 political activists and prominent academics gathered at Suan Ngern Mee Ma, a training centre that served as a shelter for the student activists before their arrest on Friday.

In a statement, the scholars and activists identified themselves as supporters of the arrested students, emphasised their stance in opposing what they labelled a dictatorship and the "selfishness and ineffectiveness" of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

The statement was signed by all 53 members of the group. The most prominent among them are social critic Sulak Sivaraksa, political scientist Kasian Tejapira, former Thammasat University rector Charnvit Kasetsiri, and noted writer Suchat Sawatsri.

Sulak and Suchat were also present during a press conference yesterday to announce the group's stance.

Other signatories to the statement include Chulalongkorn University political scientist Puangthong Pawakapan, Thammasat University anthologist Yukti Mukdavijit, political scientist Pongkwan Sawasdipakdi, and Same Sky magazine editor Thanapol Eiwsakul.

"What kind of society is the NCPO leading Thailand to? Calls for democracy and justice using non-violence have become criminalised," their statement said.

'Scared of opponents' opinions'

The student group had earlier denied a claim by the authorities that political groups were behind their moves.

"Prayut's administration is scared of opponents' opinions because they are well aware that they can't run the country," the group said.

"They are not capable of solving problems. But they persist to stay to preserve their own power and interests amid the national calamity."

It urged people to come out and call on the junta to return their power, adding that Prayut had said: "Nobody asked [me]. I'm here on my own." It said the comment showed the premier had no legitimacy.

The group said: "There is no need for us to prove anything. We don't have anyone behind us. If there is anyone, there is. But there isn't."

The government vowed to take action against the people it said were behind the student group.

General Udomdej, who is also Army chief, said apart from the mastermind there were also supporters of the group.

He urged them to stop what they are doing. "If you direct them in the wrong direction, disturbing the country's peace and order, I warn you stop it. We have identified you all. Most people do not approve of your actions because they want the country to be peaceful."

He said he believed the anti-coup movement was still under control.

He said police officials thought it was necessary to take action against the Dao Din group, the name of some of the students arrested when they were initially detained on May 22, because they may have violated Articles 116 and 83 of the Criminal Code.

He said the charges pressed against the students were not "grave" but police must enforce the law to prevent the spread of movement.

Meanwhile, red-shirt leader Korkaew Pikulthong said although it was understandable that the government would want to suppress anti-coup activities to prevent the problem snowballing, the students had acted with honest intent

He urged the government to allow people with different opinions to express their views.

Korkaew said he had no idea what Prayut meant when he said a political group was behind the anti-coup group. He urged the government to substantiate the allegation with proof.

"If the PM has proof, please clearly identify who they are because people who are not involved may be perceived by society with suspicion. Do not generalise because it may spark something big," he said.

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