NCPO stares down rights group calls to free Watana

NCPO stares down rights group calls to free Watana

This photo showing
This photo showing "attitude problem" Watana Muangsook speaking on the phone under the watch of two guards was released by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

International human rights defenders are demanding the military regime immediately release Pheu Thai politician Watana Muangsook from detention as the regime shrugged off what it says is a coordinated domestic campaign to put it under pressure.

The move came after the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) said it is considering pressing more charges against Mr Watana, a persistent critic, for repeatedly breaking NCPO orders.

Human Rights Watch joined a handful of rights groups demanding the NCPO release Mr Watana from military custody for opposing the draft constitution.

The regime arrested Mr Watana, who was social development and human security minister from 2005 to 2006, on Monday. This is the third time since March 2 that he has been held in military detention.

"The junta, by gagging a prominent critic, has heightened the climate of fear ahead of the constitutional referendum," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"The detention of Mr Watana for openly opposing the draft charter is a clear warning the junta is prepared to use intimidation and arrests to get its way in the referendum."

Meanwhile, Amnesty International (AI) described Mr Watana as a prisoner of conscience being held in military custody, with no access to lawyers or family. Joining calls for his release, AI said authorities should give Mr Watana access to legal counsel and his family.

It also asked the NCPO not to detain, prosecute, harass or penalise anyone for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association or peaceful assembly, and repeal NCPO Order 3/2015 which allows military authorities to summon and detain people arbitrarily.

The junta, meanwhile, says it is investigating who is pulling the strings behind a series of events following the detention of Mr Watana which it sees as designed to step up pressure for its ouster.

Col Piyapong Klinpan, spokesman for the NCPO, said the regime suspects several moves by various groups including Mr Watana's are coordinated with an agenda. "It looks like teamwork. We are looking into it. From his Facebook post, which led to him being summoned, his daughter's petitions followed by a gathering [at the Victory Monument] by activists, and a planned visit by red-shirt leaders," he said.

However, Col Piyapong said the regime is not concerned about the pressure, and will carry on trying to explain its actions to foreign countries and international rights groups.

He also played down a planned gathering by Resistance Citizens Group activists tomorrow, saying it would not gather momentum.

The NCPO's legal team was gathering evidence to file a lawsuit against Mr Watana for violation of the regime's orders. He said the politician may be tried in the military court. He said the military hopes Mr Watana will cooperate fully and avert the possible lawsuit.

He also said the military will allow only family members to see Mr Watana who is being detained at Surasi army camp in Kanchanaburi following reports that a group of red shirts plan to visit him.

Mr Watana had promised his daughter that during his detention he would not eat. However, Wednesday he ate some coconut flesh at the urging of soldiers looking after him.

The source said his detention and his daughter petitioning foreign missions was part of Mr Watana's plan from the beginning.

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