BANGKOK – A Thai court on Monday heard year-old charges against a pro-democracy activist arrested over the weekend, as the military government sought to discourage commemorations of the anniversary of the country's 1932 transition from an absolute to constitutional monarchy.
Bangkok's military court released Rangsiman Rome on bail on the conditions that he not incite unrest or leave the country without the court's permission.
He was arrested Sunday to prevent him from attending a pro-democracy forum critical of the military government, said his lawyer, Poonsuk Poonsukcharoen of the legal aid group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights. She said he also planned to petition the government on Monday to disclose details of a 179 billion baht ($5.27 billion) Thai-Chinese rail project for which the prime minister used special powers to override normal regulations.
Other activists reported being harassed on Saturday, the anniversary of the end of absolute monarchy and the birth of Thai democracy.
"This government pledges to lead Thailand toward a democratic transition. It is the junta's main theme — that they would eventually return power," said Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch. "It is ironic that on the day that marks the 85th anniversary of the first democratic transition, that very same junta was harassing and intimidating activists and academics from publicly commemorating the June 24th event."
Rangsiman was arrested last year for violating a ban on political gatherings of more than five people and for handing out leaflets urging people to vote against a junta-imposed draft constitution. Critics said the constitution, which passed a referendum, limits the power of elected politicians and gives the military continued influence over the government after elections are held. The army took power in 2014 after staging a coup against an elected government and has delayed plans several times to hold new polls.
The military has actively suppressed critics and political opponents.
Sirawith Seitiwat, a student activist who is facing prosecution on charges of lese majeste — defaming the monarchy — said on his Facebook page on Saturday that police officers appeared at his house and volunteered to drive him around the city for the day. Sirawith said he rejected the offer and instead took a public bus, but spotted a police car following him.
Seri Kasetsart, a student democracy advocacy group, said last week that police had made pointed inquiries about its plans for Saturday's anniversary.
"We want to condemn the actions of the government that is destroying and overthrowing democracy, which belongs to the people," the group said in a statement posted Saturday on its Facebook page. "To express political opinions is something that all Thais should be able to do. The government should protect such actions, not destroy them."
This story has been corrected to show that Sunday forum was a discussion of democracy not railway project.