BANGKOK – Thailand's junta said on Friday that it had captured a fugitive anti-coup leader facing possible imprisonment, as the ruling generals seek to stamp out any criticism of their seizure of power.
Sombat Boonngamanong, who spearheaded an online campaign to stage illegal flashmob rallies against the military takeover, was arrested late on Thursday in eastern Chonburi province, army spokeswoman Sirichan Ngathong said. "We have a team who tracked him through the Internet," she said.
"He faces initial charges of violating an order to report to the junta," she said, a charge that carries a possible punishment of two years in prison.
Sombat was one of several hundred people – including politicians, activists, academics and journalists – summoned by the military following its May 22 coup.
Those who attended were detained in secret locations for up to a week and ordered to cease political activities.
Sombat, a prominent pro-democracy activist, refused to turn himself in, instead posting a message on Facebook saying: "Catch me if you can."
Since then he has urged followers to stage peaceful public demonstrations, flashing the three-finger salute from the "Hunger Games" films that has become a symbol of defiance against the junta.
Sombat is the leader of a faction of the "Red Shirts" movement, which broadly supports fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister Yingluck, who was deposed as prime minister last month.
A former minister in Yingluck's ousted cabinet who also refused to answer the summons was detained by soldiers in a dramatic swoop on a press conference late last month, and faces trial in a military court.
The junta has imposed martial law, media censorship and a night-time curfew as part of what it says is an attempt to end political bloodshed.
It mounted a show of military strength over the weekend, deploying soldiers to deter small but defiant anti-coup rallies that popped up outside shopping malls and near train stations in Bangkok.
The billionaire tycoon-turned-populist politician lives in Dubai to avoid jail for a corruption conviction. Thaksin or his allies have won every election in more than a decade, helped by strong support in the northern half of the country.
The junta has said elections are not expected to be held for at least a year to allow political "reforms" including the drafting of a new constitution. — AFP