Human rights groups have called for the immediate release of all 14 student activists arrested for staging peaceful demonstrations against military rule.
The students, who belong to the New Democracy Movement, were arrested on Friday on charges of sedition and violating the military regime’s ban on political gatherings after staging several recent rallies calling for an end to military rule.
They are now being held at the Bangkok Remand Prison and the Central Women's Correctional Institution as they await trial in a military court.
"Thailand’s junta should immediately stop arresting and prosecuting student activists," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "While insisting they aren’t dictators, the Thai generals have used the military courts as a central feature of their crackdown against peaceful criticism and political dissent."
Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) echoed the call for the students' release, saying the time had come for others in the region to take a stand alongside those fighting for democracy in Thailand.
“It’s a disgrace. There’s no legitimacy left for a regime that bullies and arrests peaceful students for doing nothing more than standing up for their rights,” said APHR chairman Charles Santiago, who is also a Malaysian member of parliament.
“How can the junta expect the international community to take seriously the idea that it can hold credible elections if people aren’t even allowed to stand next to one another holding signs expressing their political opinion?”
The Bangkok Military Court on Friday approved a police request to detain the students for 12 days.
Armed with a court-approved search warrant, police yesterday seized five mobile phones belonging to some of the students from a car owned by Sirikarn Charoensiri, the students’ lawyer. Police said they would check information on the phones to see who the students had been in contact with.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has accused the students of having political backing, though has produced no evidence to support the claim.
The New Democracy Movement issued a statement yesterday denying any links to political groups, and vowed to continue organising anti-coup activities.
Deputy Defence Minister Udomdej Sitabutr dismissed concerns about authorities' handling of the case. “The few who still support this group should stop doing so. It only hurts the country’s image," he said.