By Kas Chanwanpen
Junta leaders yesterday said possession of black T-shirts bearing a small flag with red and white stripes was “treason” and threatened to arrest everyone involved.
Red-shirt hardcore activist Chucheep Cheevasut, better known as “Lung Sanamluang”, was named yesterday as a key leader of the alleged separatist movement “Federation of Thai States”, which promotes the shirts, by junta No 2 Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan.
General Prawit, who oversees security affairs, said the movement was active in Laos, but also had a large network in the Kingdom where they sell T-shirts with the contentious emblem.
However, the junta’s security tsar also said the group had little impact as the movement was limited to social media, where it is allegedly promoting separatism and the overthrowing of the monarchy.
The Thai authorities plan to talk to their Lao counterparts to deport them, he said.
The security forces have been following the movement for a long time, Prawit said. Some of them already face lese majeste and sedition charges, he said.
“Now, three or four people have been arrested. And if we find anyone connected to this, we will arrest them all because this is an act of treason,” the deputy prime minister said. “The movement in Thailand is big. It’s led by Lung Sanamluang, or Chucheep Cheevasut.”
Prawit’s remark came after a female motorcycle-taxi rider was detained over her possession of a small number of black T-shirts bearing a the red and white flag.
The woman’s detention without charges, allowed by the junta order 3/2558, has sparked criticism since the incident came to light over the weekend. Critics said it was unreasonable to arrest people over a T-shirt that lacked a tangible message and had only a small emblem whose meaning was vague.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), said yesterday that the authorities had already issued an arrest warrant and were actively investigating the case.
“Is the term ‘Federation of Thai States,’ legal? Is it an act of treason?” Prayut said, responding to media questions yesterday regarding what human rights advocates described as arbitrary arrest and detention.
“Thailand is a single and indivisible Kingdom – that is what is stated in the Constitution.”
Prayut went on to say that the term “federation” suggested otherwise and was therefore against the law.
There was a lot going on behind the scenes, Prayut said, adding that the government was not bullying anyone.
Meanwhile, a political critic with legal expertise, who asked not to be named, said that arbitrary detention was a different story from security.
“I understand that they may have their intelligence. But then, they should press charges and be transparent. It’s not right to arrest and detain people in military barracks, interrogating with no lawyers present. It’s against their rights,” he said.
Pawinee Chumsri, a human-rights lawyer defending the arrested woman, said yesterday she had been released from military custody and handed over to police for prosecution.
The junta may charge her with sedition, or a violation of Article 116 of the Penal Code, which carries a punishment of up to seven years in prison, Pawinee said. The legal team will try to apply for bail, the lawyer said.