BANGKOK (Reuters) – The leader of a new party that challenged the Thai military government was accused of sedition on Saturday, the last legal action before the rising star after the disputed March elections.
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Future Forward Party, talks to his supporters as he arrives at a police station to hear a sedition complaint filed by the army in Bangkok, Thailand, on 6 April 2019. REUTERS / Athit Perawongmetha
The sedition charge, which was presented by the junta, was the second criminal case opened against Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, 40, since he formed the progressive and youth-oriented Future Forward party last year.
The 2015 case re-emerged after the Future Forward Party made a surprisingly strong demonstration in the March 24 election, coming in third with 6.2 million votes.
It was still uncertain which party could form a government after the elections, the first by a military coup in 2014. The final results may not be clear for weeks.
Future Forward has adhered to an alliance of "democratic front" of the opposition which will attempt to form a government and block the head of the junta Prayuth Chan-ocha to remain in power.
Police told Reuters that the complaint dates back to 2015, when Thanathorn, who at the time was running his family's car empire, allegedly "assisted" a leader of the protesters against the military coup of 2014 that had violated a ban on meeting of five people.
While leaving the police station, Thanathorn said the charges were politically motivated and questioned the timing: "Why is it a week after the election?"
"We believe in our innocence," he told reporters, declined to comment further on the case until he presented written testimony to the police, which is scheduled for May 15. t
"This is not about me. This is about all those fighting for justice," he told a sea of supporters outside.
They gave him flowers and loudly applauded as he left the station, singing "Thanathorn, continue!"
Many wore orange clothes – the color of the party – and carried signs with "#SaveThanathorn", which is also a trendy hashtag on Twitter.
Representatives of the Embassy of the European Union, Germany and other countries were on the spot for observation.
Thanathorn is accused of violating Article 116 of the Thai Penal Code, the equivalent of sedition; Article 189, to assist others who have committed a serious crime; and Article 215, for an assembly of more than 10 people.
He could be sentenced to nine years in prison if found guilty. He will be tried in a military court.
Under the electoral law, a criminal conviction could mean the electoral disqualification for Thanathorn, which seemed destined to become a member of parliament.
Even Thanathorn is faced with a distinct cybercrime charge for a speech on Facebook that criticizes the junta in July.
The prosecutor will decide on April 26 whether to submit him to trial for cybercrime charges.
Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Additional reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Kim Coghill
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