Four student activists released

Four student activists released

Sirawith Seritiwat is escorted from the Bangkok Military Court on Thursday after a request for his detention was turned down. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
Sirawith Seritiwat is escorted from the Bangkok Military Court on Thursday after a request for his detention was turned down. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

Four student activists taken into custody on Wednesday and Thursday have been released after the Bangkok Military Court turned down a request for their detention.

Thon Buri railway police sought to detain them on charge of political assembly of five or more, an offence under the junta's order with a jail term of up to six years.

The court agreed with their lawyer, who claimed police had already questioned most of the witnesses and the suspects could not tamper with evidence or other witnesses.

Sirawith "Ja Niew" Seritiwat, leader of the New Democracy Movement, said he would file a complaint against the officers at Khlong Luang police station who arrested him.

Mr Sirawith was whisked away from Thammasat University's Rangsit campus by masked men in camouflage suits who came in pickup trucks with covered licence plates at around 10.30pm Wednesday night.

Hours later, three other NDM members on arrest warrants were nabbed by police when they came to visit Mr Sirawith. Anon Nampha, a lawyer for the students, said another group member, 29-year-old Apisit Sapnapaphan, would report to the Thon Buri railway police at 3pm Thursday. The sixth member wanted on a warrant is believed to have fled the country.

Mr Apisit reported to Chana Songkhram police Thursday evening and was being questioned. 

Blurry video of Mr Sirawith's capture were taken by a mobile phone and posted to the New Democracy Movement's Facebook page.

"We vehemently condemn such action carried out by the military as a criminal act against its citizen," the group said in a statement released after Mr Siriwith was taken away in an unmarked vehicle. "We demand the authority immediately disclose Mr Siriwith's whereabouts and inform the public with explanatory reasons of such intentional action."

The United States also weighed in on the matter. While declining to answer specific questions about the Mr Sirawith's arrest, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the US officials "remain concerned by continued limitations on human rights and fundamental freedoms in Thailand, including undue restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly".

Student activist Chonthicha Jangrew arrives at the Bangkok Military Court after being arrested Thursday. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

He said the US is again urging the government "to ensure full respect for freedom of expression and other human rights and fundamental freedoms."

At 3am on Wednesday, Mr Sirawith surfaced at Nimitmai police station near his registered home, escorted by soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Battalion.

Pol Lt Col Sujin Somsri, deputy chief of the Nimitmai police station, verified with Thon Buri railway police that Mr Sirawith was one of the students named in the warrants and transferred him to their custody.

While at the railway station, Mr Sirawith talked to reporters about his arrest, a video of which was posted to the NDM Facebook page.

In the video, he recounted how he was taken by a group of hooded men and blindfolded. After the vehicle made about 20 turns, he was dragged through a grassy field and forced to sit.  When he resisted, he was hit two or three times and jabbed in the back with a hard object. Mr Siriwith said he was unsure if it was a stick or the muzzle of a gun.

National Council for Peace and Order spokesman Col Winthai Suwaree denied the soldiers had acted violently towards Mr Sirawith.

While in custody, fellow NDM group members Chonthicha Jaengreaw, 22, Chanoknan Ruamsap, 22, and Kornkoch Saengyenphan, 23, arrived to lend Mr Sirawith moral support. Officers arrived with warrants issued by the Military Court and took them into custody.

Mr Sirawith (second from left) talks with officers at Thon Buri railway police station following his arrest by soldiers outside Thammasat University late Wednesday night. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

Pol Lt Col Phakphum Decharuangsilp, an investigator at the Thon Buri railway police station, said the four would be interrogated and then taken to the Bangkok Military Court as police sought to detain them.

Mr Anon, the lawyer, said the four were interrogated by police at the Thon Buri railway police station. They denied all charges and insisted all actions taken against them lacked legitimacy and were unacceptable, he said.

The Thon Buri station was where the six student activists had started their train journey to army-built Rajabkhati Park in Prachuap Khiri Khan province on Dec 7 where they intended to protest and call for an investigation into alleged corruption in its construction. But the train was intercepted by the military in Ratchaburi province.

At the request of railway police, the Military Court approved warrants for their arrests for defying an order from the National Council for Peace and Order against political protests.

On Jan 16, five of the six, including Mr Sirawith, appeared at the railway station to announce they would continue to peacefully refuse to surrender.

The final group member, Thanet Anantawong, was taken by soldiers from a hospital on Dec 13. He jumped bail and later appeared in an online YouTube video being interviewed in an unknown location, saying that he had fled the country and was seeking political asylum abroad.

Col Winthai said Thursday that authorities were merely seeking cooperation and understanding from those holding different opinions from the junta.

Mr Sirawith, Col Winthai said, had not cooperated at all, causing police to seek the warrant for his arrest. Moreover, the activist had become more provocative, Col Winthai said, adding that he believed anyone following news reports of his defiance would understand.

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