BANGKOK – The top general in Thailand’s ruling junta warned people today not to join anti-coup street protests, saying normal democratic principles cannot be applied at the time.
Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha also defended the detentions of dozens of politicians and activists, most of them associated with the ousted government, with a spokesman quoting him as saying that the measure would not last more than a week and was allowed by law.
In a chilling move apparently aimed at neutralizing critics and potential opposition, the junta has also ordered dozens of outspoken activists, academics and journalists to surrender themselves to military authorities, including a prominent reporter who was summoned to report today.
The military, which is already holding most of the Cabinet ousted in a coup Thursday in secret locations, said it would keep former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and others in custody for up to a week to give them “time to think” and keep the country calm.
Starting Monday, those in detention who have arrest warrants or face criminal charges will be handed over for prosecution, said deputy military spokesman Col. Winthai Suvaree.
He also said that the general “urged every group of citizens to avoid joining the anti-coup protests because at the moment, the democratic principles cannot be executed normally.”
In the three days since Thailand’s first coup in eight years, the junta has faced scattered protests that came amid growing concern over its intentions. On Saturday, the military dissolved the Senate – the last functioning democratic institution left, and absorbed its legislative powers.
“Military rule has thrown Thailand’s rights situation into a free fall,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The army is using draconian martial law powers to detain politicians, activists and journalists, to censor media and to ban all public gatherings. This rolling crackdown needs to come to an end immediately.”
More than 150 people have been held incommunicado, according to rights groups. Deputy army spokesman Col. Weerachon Sukondhapatipak said they were all being well-treated and the military’s aim was to achieve a political compromise.
Weerachon said all those held have had their cellphones confiscated because “we don’t want them communicating with other people. We want them to be themselves and think on their own,” he said, adding that they need to “calm down and have time to think.”
The junta on Saturday summoned 35 more people, including politicians, political activists and, for the first time, outspoken academics and some journalists.