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Thailand Police Arrest Activists, Escalating Protest Crackdown

2020-08-20 12:40:34
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BANGKOK — His offense was syncopated. And it rhymed.

Dechathorn Bamrungmuang, a member of the Thai collective Rap Against Dictatorship, was arrested on Thursday on charges of sedition, human rights lawyers said, part of a mounting crackdown by a government seemingly allergic to dissent.

A day earlier, the authorities took into custody for the second time a lawyer who had publicly called for the Thai monarchy’s powers to be reined in. Three pro-democracy activists were also arrested on sedition charges, a crime that can carry a seven-year prison sentence, the organization Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said. Yet more student activists were served on Wednesday with papers that appeared to indicate they could be imminently detained.

“The United Nations and concerned governments should speak out publicly against the rolling political repression in Thailand,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Thai youth are increasingly demanding real progress toward democracy and the rule of law so they can freely express their visions for the future of the country.”

Thailand is bound by strict laws that criminalize criticism of the monarchy, potentially landing offenders in jail for up to 15 years. In addition to the lèse-majesté laws, the government has also imprisoned people for contravening sedition and computer crimes laws. Hundreds of people have been funneled through so-called attitude adjustment camps that are run out of military compounds. Dissidents have disappeared, too, with some of their bodies turning up mutilated.

The transgression of Mr. Dechathorn, who goes by the rap name Hockhacker, appears to have been a musical performance at a pro-democracy rally, according to the group of rights lawyers.

In 2018, Rap Against Dictatorship, the Thai musical collective, drew millions of hits for a widely shared video for a song called “What My Country Has Got.” The song referenced a student massacre and called Mr. Prayuth’s government to account for leading a “country that makes fake promises like loading bullets, creates a regime and orders us to love it.”

Another song, released this year, took on student hazing. The collective was awarded the Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent in 2019.

Sirin Mungcharoen, a pro-democracy activist from Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, said she received a police summons on Wednesday related to a protest in Bangkok on July 18. Ms. Sirin said that she had attended that student rally, but was not an organizer.

“It’s a way to create fear,” Ms. Sirin said, adding, “I will keep fighting.”

Muktita Suhartono contributed reporting from Phuket, Thailand.

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