Thai party leader fears military trial over sedition

The leader of a popular new Thai political party which came third in last month’s elections has denied criminal charges of sedition filed against him by the ruling military junta and expressed concern that he will be tried in a military court.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit was greeted by hundreds of supporters chanting “Keep fighting, Thanathorn!” as he arrived at Pathumwan police station in Bangkok to answer a summons on complaints of sedition, assisting criminals and illegal assembly filed by a junta officer. The charges carry a maximum prison sentence of up to nine years.

“I’m concerned because this case is under the military court instead of the criminal court,” he said in a statement to reporters. “That is quite unsettling.”

Thailand’s Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit gestures to supporters as he arrives at a police station in Bangkok to hear charges of sedition against him filed by the ruling military junta (Sakchai Lalit/AP)

He said he was treated fairly by police and added: “There are many citizens in Thailand that have been charged with (sedition under Article) 116, including those that have not received any public attention.

“The regime creates fear for the society to silence us.

“I insist I am innocent. I am ready to stand firm in the court proceedings. I urge all Thais and the international community to call for civil rights to stand for human rights for the betterment of our society.”

Deputy chief of police General Srivara Ransibrahmanakul said on Wednesday that the charges against Thanathorn stem from his role in a student demonstration on June 24 2015. He said the case had stalled because of several reshuffles among the responsible officers.

Thanathorn said he views the case as politically motivated because “the timing couldn’t have been more coincidental than this — just one week after elections”.

Supporters hold posters of Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit (Sakchai Lalit/AP)

Thailand has been led by a military government since a coup in 2014 and the ruling junta has kept a tight lid on dissent.

It has slapped criminal charges on critics and some have been detained for up to weeks for “attitude adjustment” sessions at military bases in efforts to change their views.

The coup leader, Prayuth Chan-ocha, became junta chief and prime minister and is now seeking to lead the next government after a party backing his reappointment won the most popular votes, according to preliminary results of the March 24 elections.

Sakda Tanpratoomwong, a Bangkok supporter who voted for Future Forward, said he came to the police station to “show support to Thanathorn” and “to fight injustice in this country.”

He held up a sign that read “End of age of dinosaur”. He said another person went with him as a dinosaur mascot to symbolise old Thai politics.

Thais wear T-shirts in support of Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit (Sakchai Lalit/AP)

Thanathorn’s party said the police interview was observed by several embassy and UN representatives, including from the US and the European Union. They declined comment to reporters.

The Future Forward Party positions itself as youth-oriented and is deeply opposed to the military rule.

Its strong showing in the elections has made it a target for the military and its supporters. Several criminal complaints and protests to election authorities have already been lodged against Thanathorn and his party.

The election results are due to be ratified by May 9. Meanwhile, political parties are in a race over which side will be able to gather enough support to form the next government.

- Press Association

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