BANGKOK - Thai authorities have confiscated nearly 6,000 red bowls bearing a message from an ousted ex-premier, a police officer said Sunday, in the junta's latest attempt to block the resurgence of the political party it toppled.
The seizure followed the arrest last week of a woman seen posing with one of the bowls in photos on social media. She has been charged with sedition, a move described by a rights group as absurd.
The plastic scoops, used for pouring water in Buddhist ceremonies during Thailand's upcoming new year, bear a note signed by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose political bloc has spent the past decade vying for power with a military-backed elite.
Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup and now lives in exile, while the government run by his sister Yingluck was toppled by the current junta in 2014.
The bowls - in the Shinawatras' signature red colour - were first distributed at a temple fair last week in the northern province of Chiang Mai.
The message printed on the side reads: "The situation may be hot, but brothers and sisters may gain coolness from the water inside this bucket." On Saturday police and soldiers seized 5,800 of the water scoops from the home of a former MP from the Shinawatras' Puea Thai Party in the northern province of Nan, according to a local police officer.
"If we allow these bowls to be distributed, it could benefit some political parties or result in losses to others," officer Prayoon Chamnankong told AFP.
The woman arrested last week could be jailed for up to seven years if convicted of sedition. Rights groups slammed the charge as absurd.
"The Thai junta's fears of a red plastic bowl show its intolerance of dissent has reached the point of absolute absurdity," said Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch's Asia director.
The junta has outlawed all political activities, pledging to heal the kingdom's bitter divides.
But critics say the generals are chiefly bent on crippling the Shinawatra clan, who are wildly popular with their rural supporters in the north and east but hated by the Bangkok-centric military and royalist elite.
A similar attempt to quash the siblings' enduring popularity was made earlier this year when authorities banned a calendar featuring the pair in an embrace.
After keeping quiet for much of the past two years, the family's powerful political machine has recently become more vocal as the country gears up for the junta's promised elections in 2017.
But public criticism of the regime has landed many Shinawatra allies in brief spells of military detention, which the army refers to as "attitude adjustment" sessions.