Thai police on Friday arrested a prominent democracy activist after his participation in protests calling for government reforms, a new constitution and an overhaul of a law shielding the powerful monarchy.
Thailand has seen near-daily demonstrations in recent weeks by student-led groups angry at the government of former military chief Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha.
The arrest of Parit Chiwarak, broadcast live on Facebook by a friend, saw police read out several charges against him before he was bundled into a waiting car.
“I can confirm that Parit Chiwarak has been arrested… The charges relate to the demonstration on July 18,” Police Major General Somprasong Yentaum told AFP, referring to one of the largest rallies so far.
The detention of Chiwarak — also known as “Penguin” — is the third in a week after two other protesters were arrested last Friday on the same charges, which include sedition and breaking coronavirus regulations. They were subsequently released on bail.
The protesters, inspired by the Hong Kong democracy movement, have tried to remain leaderless, relying on social media campaigns to spread news about their rallies.
Thailand has been locked in a cycle of coups and street protests for decades, with the latest putsch in 2014 staged by Prayut.
Demonstrators are now calling for a rewrite of the military-scripted 2017 constitution, which they say tipped the scales in favour of Prayut’s military-aligned party in last year’s election.
Coronavirus lockdowns have this year seen Thailand enter a downward economic spiral that has brought widespread discontent to the surface.
Prayut on Thursday called for unity and urged the kingdom to “say no to the politics of hate” in a televised address.
He also poured scorn on the protesters’ demands, saying they are without support from much of the country and are “risky”.
On Monday, one rally saw thousands listening to speakers calling for a frank discussion of the royal family’s role and an end to a law protecting the unassailable institution.
The notorious “112” law can see those convicted sentenced to up to 15 years in jail for each charge.
The super-rich royal family, which commands an estimated fortune of up to $60 billion, sits at the apex of Thai power, supported by a powerful military and the country’s elite billionaire class.
More than 140 university lecturers from across the kingdom this week showed their support for the protest movement by signing a petition saying the demands of the demonstrators were “based on the basic principles of democracy”.