Police pinch “Penguin” ahead of student rally

PHOTO: Thai PBS World

Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, the outspoken leader of recent student protests, was arrested yesterday as tensions mount ahead of a major pro-democracy rally planned for tomorrow afternoon in Bangkok. He faces multiple charges, including sedition. The arrest was made as the Thammasat University student prepared to join a pro-democracy event at the campus in Nonthaburi.

After a policeman read out the arrest warrant, 4 plainclothes officers physically dragged him into an unmarked car, when he refused to go. Dozens of people used their phones to take videos, which were posted to Twitter, where #SaveParit started trending instantly, attracting more than 1.5 million tweets as of 9:30pm.

Parit was taken to Samran Rat police station, and faces charges including sedition, assault and “holding an event that could spread a disease”. Dozens of supporters gathered outside the station in the rain to demand his release. They cheered when he appeared briefly in a second storey window and waved.

The allegations stem not from yesterday’s demonstration, which was held despite a last-minute ban by the university, but from a rally staged by the Free Youth movement at Democracy Monument on July 18. It was the first major protest against the government since the easing of restrictions imposed to stem the coronavirus outbreak. Parit is also reported to be facing a lèse-majesté charge, but it was not included in yesterday’s charge sheet.

The Free Youth and Free People movements issued a statement demanding Parit’s immediate release, saying the police action showed the intention of authorities to intimidate critics of the current government. Shortly after the arrest, a number of people and groups, including Thammasat University itself, offered to help Parit seek bail.

The arrest comes a week after the seizures of human rights lawyer Arnon Nampha and Rayong student activist Panupong “Mike Jadnok, who are charged with the same offences as Parit. They are currently free on bail after the court declined a police request last Saturday to hold them for 12 days.

One of the conditions of their bail is that they refrain from political acts similar to those that led to their original charges. Police say they have already breached that condition and have petitioned the court to withdraw bail. A hearing is scheduled for September 3. Panupong was at the Samran Rat police station on Friday night to show support for Paritt.

Political tensions have been rising all week as students continue to press demands including the dissolution of Parliament, the end of intimidation against critics of the government, and the drafting of a new Constitution. The potential for confrontation has been increasing since Monday, when thousands who rallied at Thammasat University heard speakers announce an unprecedented 10 point manifesto calling for reform of the Monarchy under the Constitution.

PM Prayut Chan-o-cha said that while people have the right to free expression, dragging the Monarchy into the debate was out of line. He has also ordered an investigation into the funding of the Thammasat event, which included elaborate audio-visual displays.

Progressive Movement leader Thanathorn Juangroongreangkit said yesterday that the protesters’ demands should be on the table for talks, as crackdowns will not solve the country’s political problems. He called for all sides to be open minded about finding a solution and criticised Prayut for a lack of sincerity. The prime minister earlier said he wanted to set up a forum to listen to what the students had to say, but now the authorities have been brought in to tame them, according to the former leader of the now-dissolved Future Forward Party.

SOURCES: Chiang Rai Times | Bangkok Post

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