Thai police announced the arrests of two prominent rappers known for their politically-charged music on Thursday, August 20, in the latest police crackdown against local activists standing up to growing authoritarianism in the country.
Eight people were arrested overnight in the Thai capital of Bangkok, Reuters reported. Among them were local rappers Dechathorn Bamrungmuang—better known by his rap music persona HockHacker and the founder of the outspoken Rap Against Dictatorship group—and Thanayut Na Ayutthaya, known to fans as a member of the rap group Eleven Finger. They have since been released on bail.
According to The New York Times, the rappers have been accused of sedition, a crime punishable by up to seven years in prison.
Bangkok has been rocked by a series of large-scale pro-democracy protests in recent weeks. Dechathorn was brought to a local police station for “documentation” and was believed to have been arrested over his musical appearances at the rallies, the group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said. Attorney June Sirikan confirmed the arrests in a tweet.
Police said at a local news briefing that the people arrested were charged with breaching internal security laws over an earlier protest that took place on July 18, which defied a ban on public gatherings aimed at curbing the coronavirus spread.
“The arrests of these leaders who organized such activities are now being processed based on the law,” deputy police chief Jirapat Phumjit said, adding that warrants have been issued for four more activists over their involvement in the July demonstration.
Thailand saw its largest-ever anti-government protests on Sunday, August 16, in which at least 10,000 people marched together in peaceful solidarity at Bangkok’s iconic Democracy Monument. The movement also drew support from other pro-democracy protest leaders from Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Thailand’s leaderless youth-led movement, which began in February, is challenging the ruling Thai government, led by former military commander Prayut Chan-ocha. The movement is calling for a new constitution, the current parliament to step down, and for an end to government harassment of critics.
The most recent round of arrests was slammed by several human rights groups.
Human Rights Watch called on Thai authorities to drop the charges against the arrested activists.
“Thai youth are increasingly demanding real progress towards democracy and the rule of law so they can freely express their visions for the future of their country,” Asia director Brad Adams said in a public statement.
“Authorities are weaponizing the law to silence people who peacefully criticize the government,” Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns, said. “These charges are clearly designed to intimidate people who are taking to the streets in ever-larger numbers.”