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Politics

Thai junta orders pro-democracy protesters charged

Prime Minister Prayuth says he needs time to announce long-delayed general election

Demonstrators protest against Thailand's military government for delaying the general election, in Bangkok on Jan. 27. (Photo by Takaki Kashiwabara)

BANGKOK -- Thailand's military junta filed police complaints on Tuesday against seven pro-democracy activists who took part in a gathering on Saturday in central Bangkok and campaigned for the government to hold a general election in November this year as promised.

Based on the complaints, the police will summon the activists.

The junta is claiming that the seven protesters have violated a ban on political gatherings of more than four people, which was imposed by the junta when it took power in the 2014 coup. Violating the ban carries a sentence of up to six months in prison.

Nearly 100 people are estimated to have gathered at the meeting on Saturday. The seven protesters set to be charged are prominent pro-democracy activists, and the junta is accusing them of committing sedition by speaking in public and handing out brochures that could lead to unrest. Sedition is prohibited under the criminal law and carries a jail term of up to seven years.

Several dozen police officials, both uniformed and non-uniformed, were on guard during the protest campaign on Saturday. No clashes occurred.

"It was a peaceful gathering," Nutta Mahattana, one of the seven activists, told the Nikkei Asian Review on Tuesday. The filing of complaints is "just another effort by the military junta to stop people from talking against them, but it will not stop us," she said, adding that another gathering will take place on Feb. 10 if the government does not announce the vote to take place within this year.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the junta leader, pledged last year that the general election, which has already been delayed for years, will take place by November 2018. However, last week the junta-appointed parliament approved the lower-house election bill which included a controversial clause that could push back the poll dates by another 90 days.

"The matter [of the protests] will be dealt with by the law," Prayuth told reporters in Bangkok at his weekly press briefing on Tuesday. "Please do not discourage me, and please give me time to lay a foundation for the country," he said without specifying how much time will be needed.

According to iLaw, a local non-profit organization that monitors legal cases, prosecutions regarding sedition have increased since the May 2014 coup. At least 66 people have been accused in 26 cases. Some have been charged with crimes for simply posting critical comments about the military on social media.

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