Thai Dissidents Form Group to Push Junta for Return to Democracy

A Thai dissident group led by former members of the party ousted by the May 22 coup described the military’s actions as “grand larceny” and said they will rally forces outside the country to push for a return to democracy.

Charupong Ruangsuwan, a former leader of the ruling Pheu Thai Party who fled the country after the putsch, announced the establishment of the Organisation of Free Thais for Human Rights and Democracy on the group’s Facebook page.

After ousting the elected government, the army suspended the constitution and used its powers under martial law to order more than 300 people to report in, including politicians, protesters, journalists and academics. Authorities have also detained people for wearing T-shirts with anti-coup slogans and for reading the George Orwell novel “1984” in public.

“This is an outrageous act that has violated both Thai and international laws,” Charupong said in a statement today on the Facebook page, referring to the junta seizing power. “Their ultimate aim is to attempt to persuade ordinary Thai people to believe that dictatorship is superior to democracy.”

Junta leader Prayuth Chan-Ocha has said the army had no choice except to seize power to end more than six months of political turmoil that led to an annulled election in February and the ouster of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Prayuth has said democracy can’t be returned until the political system is reformed -- a process that will take at least 15 months -- and the country is united. An interim government will be installed by September, he said this month.

‘Puppet Structure’

“What they mean is that that will have created a new puppet structure whose sole purpose will be to re-entrench anti-democratic elements into Thailand’s body-politic and to sabotage the development of Thai democracy,” Charupong said. “Any such structure will need to be removed before a more democratic and civilized society can be built.”

Charupong signed the statement as the secretary-general of the dissent organization, and did not say where it would be based. Jakrapob Penkair, a former government spokesman who fled Thailand in 2009 after being accused of insulting the monarchy, also helped establish the group.

Jakrapob was once a spokesman for Yingluck’s brother Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by the military in 2006. He was later a Cabinet member in an administration of Thaksin’s allies. Jakrapob resigned in 2008 when police pressed charges against him for allegedly insulting the royal family, a crime punishable by as many as 15 years in prison.

The law, called lese-majeste -- meaning injury to majesty in French -- makes it a criminal offense to defame, insult or threaten the king, queen, heir apparent or regent.

Jakrapob is among 28 people wanted under warrants for failing to report to the National Council for Peace and Order, as the junta is called, the Bangkok Post reported yesterday.

International Criticism

The Organisation of Free Thais for Human Rights and Democracy says it will become “the center for all Thais who possess an unyielding desire for full democracy, in full compliance with the principles of democracy, universal human rights, international laws, and non-violence.”

International rights groups and foreign governments have also been critical of the coup and a subsequent erosion of civil rights.

The U.S. scrapped joint military programs with Thailand and Australia’s government said it will prevent coup leaders from visiting. The European Union yesterday said it’s suspending official visits to and from Thailand and withdrawing support for the country until democracy is reinstated.

“The EU and its member states will not sign the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Thailand until a democratically elected government is in place,” the EU said in a statement. “Only an early and credible roadmap for a return to constitutional rule and the holding of credible and inclusive elections will allow for the EU’s continued support.”

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