The Junta-installed regime under Prayut Chan-o-cha, which yesterday released 14 anti-coup student activists, was not a "hardline dictatorship", Justice Minister Paiboon Kumchaya said yesterday, noting his government had provided channels for the students to express their political opinions as they wished.
The 14 activists held a meeting after their release and appeared uncompromising in pushing for democracy and freedom.
"That we are here does not signify the end of the struggle but a new step for the struggle," declared Rangsiman Rome, one of the 14, in front of the prison where they were detained for 12 days.
The student activists, who were detained for 12 days for violating the junta's order banning political gathering and Article 116 of the Criminal Code that forbids sedition, were freed from Bangkok Remand Prison and Central Correctional Hospital at dawn yesterday. Charges against them are still being pursued by police to be submitted to Military Court's attorney and they could each face a maximum imprisonment term of seven years.
Paiboon remarked after their release that the students should use other means in their campaign that would not break the laws, adding there were channels provided by the government but did not elaborate. Also, he said if the students continued to campaign flouting the law, the law would have to be enforced against them. Otherwise, the government would not be able to run the country.
Paiboon said although this government was not elected or democratic "but [it] is not a hardline dictatorship". He added that the government believed the issue could be solved through dialogue and asked the students to not resort to the same type of public campaign before they were arrested.
Police chief Pol General Somyot Poompanmuang said he did not want to believe that the student activists were backed by political groups for it would be slanderous. However, he said he accepted that the students might have been incited, adding that he did not know for sure if there were any international organisations involved or encouraging the students.
Somyot also said the students should think about the future and the country, which was moving forward. "Do not be fooled or be used by the international organisations or those backing [you]. They are not responsible for anything. They only use [you]," warned the police chief, adding that no special branch police will trail them but some officers from other state agencies will talk and forge a common understanding with them instead.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Prayut refused to comment on the release of the activists, saying he was "tired of speaking" about it and that people should refer to what the Justice Minister had said.
The 14 student activists affirmed in front of the media that they would continue to fight for freedom and democracy shortly after they were released. "That we stand here is a testimony to our continued fight. We didn't want to seek bail because it would mean that we accept their rule. We are not guilty. So, we assert that we would continue to fight using civil disobedience," said Rangsiman, who is a member of the New Democracy Movement. The group also stood firm in its rejection of the use of a military court to try them.