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Thai anti-military activist injured in street assault

By GRANT PECKJune 3, 2019

BANGKOK (AP) — A Thai activist opposed to the military’s role in politics said Monday that he was assaulted by a group of unknown men, in the latest in a series of such attacks as the country’s parliament prepares to elect a new government.

Sirawith Seritiwat said five or six men attacked him by surprise Sunday night after he had been working on a campaign to petition members of the Senate not to vote this week to appoint current Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to the post again. Prayuth seized power in 2014 after leading a military coup against an elected government.

Sirawith, also known as Ja New, was hospitalized overnight but his injuries did not appear to be serious. Two other activists who are also critics of the military were attacked in May. No suspects have been identified in any of the cases.

Six other government opponents, associated more with an anti-royalist movement, have disappeared or been killed since December, despite being in exile in neighboring countries. The government denies any knowledge of their whereabouts.

Political temperatures in Thailand are higher than usual this week, as parliament prepares to vote in a new government after a controversial general election in March. The junta that seized power in 2014 set new laws handicapping established political parties and Prayuth was named as the prime minister candidate of a party seen as serving as a proxy for the army.

No single party won an absolute majority of seats in the House of Representatives, causing pro- and anti-military parties to try to establish majority coalitions. Prayuth’s appointment as prime minister appears to be certain since the job is voted on by a joint sitting of the lower house and the Senate, and senators were appointed by Prayuth’s junta. If the military’s opponents can form a majority in the lower house, however, they can obstruct actions taken by a government led by Prayuth.

Sirawith said his attackers approached him from behind, and then five of six of them, some carrying wooden staves, hit him on the head and shoulders and kicked him. Afterwards he reported the attack to a nearby police station and was sent to a hospital.

“I don’t know who are behind these attacks and if they have political motives or not. I don’t have enemies except those who disagree with what I do,” he said.

Senior members of two political parties aligned against the military denounced the attack on Sirawith.

“Are we going to let those who are thirsty for power create violence to retain power even by using savage and heinous methods?” wrote Phumtham Wechayachai, secretary general of the Pheu Thai party, which won the most House seats.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Future Forward Party, a Pheu Thai ally with the third-highest seat total, referred to another beating and called Sirawith “the latest victim.”

“Their crimes are calling for a just society even when they have no social capital to protect themselves,” he wrote on Twitter. “Don’t wait until it is your children’s turn to see that this is injustice. Enough with the cruel savagery of the coup system. #standwithjanew”

Sirawith is one of a small but dedicated group of young activists who have been protesting since soon after the 2014 coup, and defying repeated efforts to tame them through detentions and criminal charges.

In January 2016, men in military uniforms seized Sirawith off a Bangkok street and bundled him into a waiting vehicle, an incident that occurred a month after he took part in an anti-corruption protest. The abduction was caught on videotape and happened in front of witnesses, and he was quickly let go.

The two activists beaten last month were Anurak Jeantawanich, who said he had to get eight stitches after six men beat him with wooden staves, and Ekachai Hongkangwan, who was punched in what was the seventh attack he has experienced, in addition to having his parked car set on fire twice.

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Associated Press journalists Tassanee Vejpongsa and Kaweewit Kaewjinda contributed to this report.

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