Thai junta releases about 130 from custody on censorship condition


Ethan Metcalf

Protesters hold signs during an anti-coup demonstration outside a shopping complex in Bangkok on May 24. The army said the takeover is to restore order after seven months of protests. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)

Associated Press

BANGKOK — Thailand’s ruling junta has found a new way of controlling its opponents and forcing them into silence: releasing them from custody only on the condition that they promise not to do anything provocative.

Those who do face two years in jail.

The army, which is still holding top officials in the ousted government, summoned 253 people, mostly politicians, scholars, journalists and activists seen as critical of the regime. Roughly 70 are still in custody, 53 have failed to show up, and about 130 have been released, said a spokesman for the junta, Col. Weerachon Sukhondhapatipak.

Weerachon confirmed the conditions of release Wednesday, saying the detainees had to sign forms saying they would not to do anything “provocative or anything that has a negative impact on national security.” Anyone who supports political activities or violates the other conditions can be prosecuted, he said.

Pro-democracy demonstrators have taken to Bangkok’s streets daily since the coup in small and mostly leaderless protests. Hundreds gathered Wednesday at the city’s Victory Monument, where scuffles broke out in which water bottles and other objects were hurled at soldiers, and a green army Humvee was vandalized with large white letters reading, “NO COUP. GET OUT.”

Among those freed Wednesday were five leaders of the Red Shirt movement, which supported the government ousted in the coup and threatened to take action if the military seized power.

The conditional releases could pose a challenge to the Red Shirt leadership, and appear aimed at stifling a new round of mass protests. The signed forms also explain why those who have been released, such as former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, have made no public statements since.

The only ousted government official to condemn the coup, the education minister, was detained immediately after he did so at a news conference Tuesday. Military authorities said Wednesday he will be charged with failing to respond to a summons to report to the army.

The most prominent of those released Wednesday was Jatuporn Prompan, who was seized last Thursday when the coup unfolded after the army called the country’s political rivals together for unsuccessful peace talks.

Jatuporn was featured in an army-ordered broadcast on all stations earlier Wednesday. The junta said the video, in which five detainees can be seen talking to army officers, was meant to prove to the public that detainees are being treated well.

Three of those in the clips were freed Wednesday. Two were not: ex-Deputy Prime Minister Pracha Pomnonk and a former lawmaker from the Democrat Party who had publicly criticized the coup.

Kokaew Pikulthong, a Red Shirt leader who was among those released, later said, “We were treated OK. It was not fancy, but it was a livable condition.”

The army takeover, Thailand’s second in eight years, deposed an elected government that insisted for months that the nation’s fragile democracy was under attack from protesters, the courts and finally the army.

The army said it acted to restore order after seven months of protests that triggered sporadic violence in which at least 28 people were killed and more than 800 injured in grenade attacks, gun fights and drive-by shootings.

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