14 anti-coup students arrested in Thailand

A protester fights with a policeman during a protest in central Bangkok May 22, 2015. Thai authorities detained dozens of student 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

After having tussled for about a month, the junta and anti-coup student activists - mainly the 14 university students detained and released for protesting on the first-year anniversary of the coup on May 22 - reached another climax when the students were arrested on Friday.

The students' Military Court trial began on Friday night and they are being detained at the Bangkok Remand Prison and the Central Women's Correctional Institution.

Shortly before noon yesterday, about 15 activist friends of the detainees visited the remand prison. The women's correctional institution was closed at the time.

The overall atmosphere at the gathering was quiet, with light drizzle falling. Apart from relatives and close friends of the detainees, few people came to give them moral support.

One of their friends, fellow activist Piyarat Chongthep, who is also known as "Toto", was not surprised by the absence of supporters at the prision.

"Actually, this is not beyond our expectation, especially mine," Piyarat said. "You can't [carry out] a kamikaze [attack] and expect that people will come out because the conflict in Thai society is not one between the people and the ruler. You are not representing the Thai people across the country. This is a conflict between one group of people and another."

Piyarat said he was "disheartened" by the arrests, "but won't give up".

"They sacrificed [themselves]. It seemed they'd hoped it could bring about change or people would rise up. But it [the sacrifice] hasn't served its purpose," he said.

"So, besides my feeling of disappointment, I feel a little disheartened. But I won't give up. I might pause for a breath and review my role."

Among the visitors at the Bangkok Remand Prison was the activist Songtham Kaewpanphruek's girlfriend. She said she understood he had to fulfil his duty.

"I have to respect his decision. Even when he doesn't seek bail, I still understand and keep supporting him," the company employee said.

In front of the prison, a couple of people gathered to give moral support to the activists. One of them said imprisoning the students was too extreme.

"I didn't want to come out. But [this is] too extreme. They were just campaigning against the coup using a symbolic act," said Yupa Sangsai, a middle-aged housewife.

"Do they really need to be put them in jail? [The students] were treated unfairly so I have to come out. If this [injustice] carries on, students plus the people will come out [to protest]."

Human Rights Watch called on authorities yesterday to immediately drop all charges and release the 14 student activists unconditionally.

"Thailand's junta should immediately stop arresting and prosecuting student activists," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"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.

"With each new arrest, Thailand's path toward democracy is getting harder to find."

In its statement released yesterday, the New York-based organisation said: "These latest arbitrary arrests again demonstrate the military junta's unwillingness to ease its oppressive rule."

It noted that international human rights law prohibits governments from using military courts to try civilians when civilian courts are functioning.

"The use of military courts in Thailand also fails to meet international fair trial standards under the ICCPR," Human Rights Watch said.

It was referring to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was ratified by Thailand in 1996.


Names of the 14 student activists detained for violating an NCPO order:

Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, Khon Kaen University, senior, Faculty of Law

Suwitcha Pitankkorn, Khon Kaen University, senior, Faculty of Law

Panupong Sritananuwat, Khon Kaen University, sophomore, Faculty of Law

Suphachai Phukrongploy, Khon Kaen University, sophomore, Faculty of Law

Payu Boonsophon, Khon Kaen University, sophomore, Faculty of Law

Wasan Setsit, Khon Kaen University, senior, Faculty of Law

Apiwat Soontararak, Khon Kaen University, freshman, Faculty of Law

Rangsiman Rome, Thammasat University, senior, Faculty of Law

Songtham Kaewpanphruek, Rajamangala University of Technology Suvarnabhumi, junior

Rattapol Supasophon, Thammasat University, senior, Faculty of Economics

Apisit Sapnapapha, Kasetsart University, graduate

Pakorn Areekul, Burapha University, graduate

Pornchai Yuanyee, Chulalongkorn University, graduate

Chonticha Changreo, Srinakharinwirot University, senior, Faculty of Social Science.