Police need a slap on the wrist
The arrest of civil rights lawyer Arnon Nampa and a student leader on Friday on sedition charges for their roles in a series of rallies against the government is an ill-thought, excessive act by the police. The tough action against pro-democracy activists which has sparked a public outcry is an embarrassment to the government that came to power through an election.
Mr Arnon, who was released on bail yesterday afternoon together with student leader Panupong Chadnok, was nabbed at the front of his home by a team of police officers both in plainclothes and uniform who produced an arrest warrant dated Aug 6.
At the time the men were arrested, there were reports that warrants had been issued for those participating in political activism which resumed on July 18 after fears over Covid-19 eased.
Among those who face arrest was prominent student activist, Parit "Penguin" Cheewarak of Thammasat University.
He posted on his Facebook on Friday night that a warrant had been issued for his arrest. Yet police have not put him in custody.
In nabbing Mr Arnon and Mr Panupong, police laid a sedition charge under Section 116 of the Criminal Code which is punishable by seven years imprisonment if found guilty.
They also face other allegations of violating Section 215 of the Criminal Code (assembly intended to commit an act of violence); Section 385 (obstructing public way); the Emergency Decree on public assembly; Section 114 of the Land Traffic Act (obstructing the traffic); Section 4 concerning control of the use of amplifier (use without permission); Section 19 of the Maintenance of the Cleanliness and Orderliness Act (placing an object on the road); and Section 34 of Communicable Disease Act (participating in the acts that increase the risk of infection).
After granting bail to the men yesterday, the court prohibited them from conducting acts relating to the eight charges. Mr Arnon was scheduled to appear at a rally in Chiang Mai today.
He planned to give a speech on reform of the monarchy, the very topic he spoke about on Monday at a rally at the Democracy Monument which prompted a royalist to file a lese majeste charge against him.
It remains unclear if today's rally and those scheduled for later dates are still on.
As of yesterday, the conditions imposed by the court in awarding bail had not deterred the students from forming a flash mob in the heart of Bangkok. Local media said 1,000 people turned up, denouncing the excessive police act.
Such anger is understandable. Slapping the lawyer and activists with sedition and assembly charges is by any measure disproportionate given that the previous rallies -- or flash mobs -- in Bangkok and the provinces were peaceful.
Moreover, the alleged offence against the Emergency Decree is nonsensical. It raises the question of hypocrisy since Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and other top officials in the government promised that the special law, which has been extended, would never be used for any political reason as Covid-19 is well controlled.
How can the police use their discretion at will, and contrary to the government's instruction? Isn't this a dereliction of duty?
The heavy-handed approach by police is equal to a crackdown on political activism as well as freedom of expression, all civic rights endorsed in the 2017 constitution. Such a blatant act would make the country and the Prayut administration subject to international criticism.
Gen Prayut is on the right track in making a commitment to amend the charter, a demand put forward by the students. On Wednesday, he said the government was preparing its own amendment for parliament to consider.
What is needed now is a wise act that can effectively cool the political mercury, so the government can cope better with the staggering economy, intensified by lockdown measures amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Thailand cannot afford another political crisis, a factor that would see the country trapped in an economic abyss.
Last week, the premier even stressed the need for unity that will enable the nation to move forward. A suppression of activism would not bring the nation to that goal. An open talk between the government and the activists about how to avoid political crisis is necessary. Before that, the prime minister must give the police a slap on the wrist.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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