THAILAND. Bangkok. In a democratic country, citizens are free to express their dissents, but in a democratic country under a military-drafted constitution, things are working differently.
After Free Youth’s protest and weeks of nationwide anti-government protests, two protest leaders were arrested with eight charges. Following a night at a police station and long hours in court, they were released on bail. Local news reported 31 other names who are targeted by the authorities. Members of the public objected to the arrests stating “if we don’t fight, we will live as slaves.”
On Friday (7 Aug.) afternoon, Human Rights Lawyer Anon Nampa and University Student Panupong Jadnok, both appearing at many anti-government protests in the past weeks, were arrested with eight allegations include violation of the state of the emergency act, sedition, and traffic obstructions, according to arrest warrants.
Prior to Nampa’s arrest, he publicly criticized the monarchy at a protest despite the lèse-majesté law.
Both of them appeared at the Criminal Court as the police requested detention orders from the court after interrogations at police stations.
The court denied the request four hours into the hearing citing that the request was submitted outside of the court operating hours, which Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) reported that it resulted in police losing custody on the two suspects. However, the police insisted on detaining them before forcefully carrying them into a police van. Nampa and Jadnok were held at Huai Khwang Police Station for a night.
On Saturday (8 Aug.) morning, Nampa and Jadnok were taken to the Criminal Court again to review the request. The court approved the detention orders but released both of them in the afternoon on bail with conditions as they requested.
The two protest leaders initially announced that they would not request to get bailed out as doing so would jeopardize their political activities.
Other protest leaders are targeted
After the two arrests were made, iLaw released a leaked document of 31 names that are suspects from the Free Youth’s protest on 18 July. The list then went viral on social media.
Matichon reported that police already requested arrest warrants for 15 protest leaders while they are still collecting evidence for the other 16 people. The report said the police will arrest all 31 protest leaders by 10 Aug.
Parit Chiwarak, one of the 31, announced he would not turn himself in as he believes the warrant is illegitimate.
Elected representatives appeared at the scene
Members of the Parliament (MP) from the Move Forward Party appeared at the court on Friday night to support both suspects while offering their elected-positions as bail for all 31 protest leaders as needed. An elected-representative position worths 1,000,000 Baht (around 32,000 USD) as a bailout.
Two of them ended up using their positions to bail Nampa and Jadnok out.
MPs from the Pheu Thai Party led by Sudarat Keyuraphan, its chief strategist, also appeared at the Bang Khen Police Station where most protesters were at to support them.
Public reaction after the arrest
Immediately after Nampa’s arrest, a hashtag #saveทนายอานนท์ (#SaveLawyerAnon) trended on Twitter. Hundreds of people gathered on Friday evening at the Bang Khen Police Station where the interrogation happened to protest the arrests and demand the release. Students activists whose names appeared on the targeted list led the protest.
Protesters moved to Huai Khwang Police Station as the two were taken there from the court. Some protesters stayed overnight.
The crowd continued to gather on Saturday at the Criminal Court as Nampa and Jadnok waited for the court decision before another mass student-led flashmob was organized in the afternoon.
“If we don’t fight, we will live as slaves.”
On Saturday, over 1,000 people joined the Free People group, a group that was launched by Free Youth to be more inclusive, in pressuring the authorities to release the two protest leaders at Pathumwan Skywalk. The event led to a hashtag #ถ้าไม่สู้ก็อยู่อย่างทาส (#IfWeDon’tFightWeWillLiveAsSlaves).
Despite the inclement weather and pressure from the police, demonstrators continued to raise their three fingers salute known as a dictatorship-opposed sign in Thailand and sang “Do You Hear the People Sing?”
Organizers reminded everyone again of the three initial demands: the dissolution of the parliament, a more democratic constitution, and an end to state harassment.
Many activists whose names were on the leaked targeted list also appeared at the event. They asked that everyone joins the big protest on 16 Aug. at the Democracy Monument.
The protest on 16 Aug. is by the Free People as Free Youth promised a bigger event if their demands were not met in two weeks. 1 Aug. marked a complete two weeks.
“We won’t stop until the dark power is gone,” chanted protesters before dissolution.