The arrest of a group of 37 activists in Thailand ahead of a planned anti-corruption protest is the latest evidence that the country’s military government is using arbitrary powers of detention to silence peaceful activism, Amnesty International said today.
The group of 36 students and a lawyer were detained on Monday morning while travelling by train to Rajabhakti Park in Hua Hin, central Thailand, to attend a demonstration against alleged military corruption.
The authorities detached their train compartment en-route and forcibly removed some of the activists from the carriage before being taking them into custody. All the activists were later released.
“These heavy-handed and completely unjustifiable arrests highlight Thailand’s need to remove the military’s powers of arbitrary detention, which are being used to harass and criminalise peaceful dissent,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s Southeast Asia and Pacific regional office director.
“This group, some of whom were also denied access to lawyers, were detained merely for peacefully exercising their right to speak out against alleged corruption.”
The activists detained today include students and democracy campaigners from the Resistant Citizens group, along with lawyer Anon Numpa.
The military has denied financial wrongdoing over the construction of the park, which is currently under investigation over alleged improper payments.
The park, which honours former Thai kings, opened in September 2015 and was built at an estimated cost of one billion Thai baht (US $28 million). It was today closed “for renovations” following the detentions.
The crackdown follows the detention of two former opposition MPs last Monday while they were making the same train journey to Rajabhaktii Park. They were released the same day.
“This is the second time in a week that authorities have used arbitrary powers of detention to silence peaceful dissent,” said Champa Patel.
“The Thai authorities are also increasingly trampling on safeguards for detainees, which puts them at risk of further human rights violations such as torture and other ill-treatment.
“Authorities must also drop all charges of illegal political assembly and treason, laid against some of these activists for their role in peaceful protests earlier this year.”
A government spokesman said the activists had violated a law which bans public meetings of more than five people for political purposes.