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Thai activists urge govt to release democracy campaigners

Young pro-democracy protesters remain defiant in the face of intimidation

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

Published: September 07, 2020 08:00 AM GMT

Updated: September 07, 2020 08:03 AM GMT

Thai activists urge govt to release democracy campaigners

Activist Panupong Jadnok speaks to the media as he arrives at the Criminal Court in Bangkok to answer charges of violating his bail terms on Sept. 3. (Photo: AFP)

Prominent rights activists have called on Thailand’s government to release two young pro-democracy activists who have been detained for their calls for political reform during a mass protest in July.

Arnon Nampa, 35, an outspoken human rights lawyer, and Panupong Jadnok, a 24-year-old activist, were rearrested on Sept. 3 after a court had revoked their bail, citing their breach of bail conditions that barred them from participating in any further protests.

The two activists are detained at a remand prison ahead of their pending trial for sedition and other alleged crimes.

Thirteen other protest leaders and 16 demonstrators are facing similar charges following a protest held at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument on July 18.

During the rally, which was attended by more than 1,000 protesters in defiance of the authorities, the young activists, many of whom are university students, called for democratic reforms in a country that continues to be ruled by a military-allied regime that seized power in a coup in 2014.

Leading rights groups such as Amnesty International have decried what they see as the judicial harassment of the pro-democracy activists. 

“All 31 face serious allegations including sedition — this broadly worded and repressive law is often used by the government to silence critical voices,” Amnesty International said in a statement.

“If convicted, each activist could face up to seven years in prison. This recent slew of arrests of peaceful demonstrators illustrates the authorities’ intensifying crackdown on freedom of expression and assembly.” 

Student-led demonstrations have been taking place on an almost daily basis in Bangkok and elsewhere for over two months, with protesters demanding greater freedoms and sweeping reforms of the country’s power structure, which they view as deeply undemocratic.

The authorities have responded by routinely arresting young activists and charging them with various crimes including sedition. However, young activists have remained defiant in the face of intimidation.

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Speaking to the media before his latest hearing in court on Sept. 3, Arnon said both he and Panupong were willing to go to prison over their pro-democracy activism.  

“[If we are jailed, then] I hope that our imprisonment could serve as an inspiration for those who will continue fighting [for freedom],” he told reporters.

In a handwritten note passed out from prison and shared on social media, the rights lawyer has urged his fellow activists to continue striving for democratic rights in Thailand.

“We’ve come a long way. Keep on moving forward courageously,” Arnon wrote, following it up with a Facebook post in which he said: “Let my jailing today be proof of harassment against the people.”

Panupong, too, remained defiant, posting a similar message on Facebook.

“When everyone knows that society is ruled by the elite, our duty is to fight against the injustice and inequality undermining democracy,” the activist wrote.

“Do not wait for others to stand up for you. Keep fighting to bring victory to our movement. Even though I am no longer free, others will stand up and achieve victory at last.”

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