Thai police re-arrest protest leaders after reaching limit of detention


Police re-arrested three of Thailand’s most high profile protest leaders after they reached the limit for their detention, with one of them carried out of a police van, apparently unconscious.

Panupong “Mike Rayong” Jadnok, 24, Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul, 22 and Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, 22, were all detained during a crackdown ordered on Oct. 15 to try to end months of protests against the government and calling for reforms of the monarchy.

Video images showed Panupong slumped and being carried from a police van that had brought him from Bangkok Remand Prison to the Pracha Chuen police station before being taken away in an ambulance.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said Panupong was not in danger but would be kept in hospital overnight. The group said it believed he passed out after being put in a chokehold in the van. Police were not immediately available for comment.

An officer had earlier said he had orders to take them from prison to the police station. A lawyer for the three said they were being taken away to be charged again, arguing that it was unlawful to do so because they had already pleaded not guilty to the same charges.

In chaotic scenes outside the police station, Parit and Panusaya gave an impromptu address to scores of supporters who had gathered there. They challenged the legality of their re-arrest and pledged to keep protesting peacefully.

“The iron bars can imprison the stars but not the starlight. In my heart, I still have faith in the people. The wind of change, the wind of democracy has arrived in Thailand,” Panusaya said.

“We will fight the darkness with the starlight. We will fight evil with flowers. And we will fight guns with white ribbons.”

Panusaya, whose long blonde locks were cut and dyed black during her time in prison, was given a bouquet of flowers by the crowd.

“The movement has to go on. Everybody must recommit to non-violence,” Panusaya said.

“If violence happens, it’s not from us. Even though we are getting more frustrated, we must not fall for their ploy.”

The three have been among the most vocal in calling for curbs on the power of King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s monarchy during protests that began in mid-July. They have been charged with multiple offences from sedition to breaking emergency laws meant to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Among the royal reforms demanded are the abolition of the draconian lese majeste law which shields the family from defamation, a clear accounting of the palace’s finances, and for King Maha Vajiralongkorn to stay out of politics.

Such calls are unprecedented in Thailand, where criticism of the royal family is taboo.

Scores of students on Friday boycotted their graduation ceremony at Thammasat University, where the king – who spends much of his time in Germany – was handing out degrees.

“Some people say it’s a once in a lifetime experience (to meet the king). I don’t want to meet him. I don’t want to pay respect to people like him,” one graduate, a 24-year-old who identified himself as Jack, told AFP.

“Why do we need to worship him like a god? I’ve always asked myself these questions,” another graduate, Bowie, told AFP.

An AFP reporter at the scene said the number of students present was visibly smaller than in previous years.

Thammasat University has a reputation for liberal views and was the scene of a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 1976. (Source: CNA)