Thai activists who protested junta surrender to police

Thai activists gather in front of a police station in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018. Nearly three dozen Thai democracy activists have turned themselves in to police after being summoned in connection with a protest calling for the ruling military government to step down and relinquish power through elections. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
Thai activists gather in front of a police station in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018. Nearly three dozen Thai democracy activists have turned themselves in to police after being summoned in connection with a protest calling for the ruling military government to step down and relinquish power through elections. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
Thai activists gather in front of a police station in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018. Nearly three dozen Thai democracy activists have turned themselves in to police after being summoned in connection with a protest calling for the ruling military government to step down and relinquish power through elections. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
Thai activists gather in front of a police station in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018. Nearly three dozen Thai democracy activists have turned themselves in to police after being summoned in connection with a protest calling for the ruling military government to step down and relinquish power through elections. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

BANGKOK — Nearly three dozen Thai democracy activists turned themselves in to police Thursday after being summoned in connection with a protest calling for the ruling military government to step down and relinquish power through elections. All were released the same day.

The legal aid group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said the activists were charged with violating the ruling junta's ban on political assembly and nine faced an additional charge of sedition.

"I don't understand why I have been charged," said Netiwit Chotipatpaisal, a student activist. "I think Thailand is a strong country. But to arrest those who think differently and speak out and to accuse them of sedition shows how ineffective our leaders really are."

Thailand has been under military rule since a 2014 coup, but the junta is under increasing pressure both at home and abroad to return the country to civilian governance. Repeated postponements of promised elections and several corruption scandals have in recent months eroded public support for the regime.

The military government uses a variety of laws to discourage dissent, including a ban on political gatherings of more than five people, and a sedition statute, defined as illicit efforts to bring about change in the country's laws and punishable by up to seven years in prison.

Thai courts allowed all the protesters to be released late Thursday, judging that they were not a flight risk and had cooperated with police by turning themselves in, Sorawut Wongsaranon of the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said. The courts rejected a police request that those charged with sedition be held.

Four protest leaders did not report to police on Thursday out of fear that they would be kept in custody and unable to attend another pro-election rally planned for the weekend. Soranon said an arrest warrant could be issued for them because they chose to ignore the police summons.

Sombat Boonngam-anong, a veteran activist, said the summonses showed that the government is worried that the protest movement could grow at the weekend rally, which will be held at Bangkok's Democracy Monument.

"They are worried that many people will attend the event," he said. "This is a concern of the government that is losing its popularity."

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