Rappers, activists arrested in crackdown on Thai protests

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Pro-democracy activists from left Suwanna Tanlek, Nuthawut Somboonsap, Baramee Chairat, Thanayuth Na Ayuthaya, Arnon Nampha, Korakot Saengyenpan, Dechathorn Bamrungmuang and Thanee Sasom raise a three-fingers, symbol of resistance salute outside the criminal courthouse in Bangkok, Thailand, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020. Thai police arrested nine pro-democracy activists, including two rappers, in a crackdown on growing protests that have emerged as the most serious threat to the government led by a former army general they accuse of incompetence and corruption. Thai criminal court released all nine of them on bail. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

BANGKOK – Thai police arrested nine pro-democracy activists, including two rappers, in a crackdown on growing protests that have emerged as the most serious threat to the government led by a former army general they accuse of incompetence and corruption.

Among those arrested was Dechathorn Bamrungmuang, a founding member of Rap Against Dictatorship, and a rapper from another group who both took to the stage during a July 18 rally. Dechathorn's hits like “Prathet Ku Mee” (What My Country’s Got) and “250 Bootlickers” have criticized the country's conservative leadership and lack of political freedoms.

The activists facing sedition charges have called on Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and his administration to resign. The protests over the last two months, fanned by thousands of students, are the most serious threat yet to an ex-army chief who seized power in a 2014 military coup and then retained it in a 2019 election widely seen as rigged to guarantee his victory.

With key Cabinet posts still in the hands of former generals, opposition to the military’s continuing influence and Prayuth’s leadership has grown louder.

The protests have declared three core demands: holding new elections, amending the military-imposed constitution and ending the intimidation of critics of the government.

Protest leaders triggered controversy earlier this month when they expanded their original agenda, publicly criticizing Thailand’s constitutional monarchy and issuing a 10-point manifesto calling for its reform.

Their action was virtually unprecedented, as the monarchy is considered sacrosanct and any criticism is normally kept private. A lese majeste law calls for a prison sentence of up to 15 years for anyone found guilty of defaming the king.

One of the activists who allegedly made critical remarks, Arnon Nampha, was arrested Wednesday and charged with sedition and violation of a public assembly law for participating in a Harry Potter-themed protest on Aug. 3.