Thai opposition figure Thanathorn charged over illegal protest

In this file photo taken on Dec 14, 2019 Thai politician and leader of the opposition Future Forward Party Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit addressess his supporters during an unauthorised flash mob rally in Bangkok. - AFP

BANGKOK (AFP): A prominent Thai anti-establishment figure was on Thursday (Oct 29) charged for his role in an illegal flash mob protest last year, prosecutors in the country's capital said.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, a charismatic billionaire and founder of the dissolved Future Forward party, is accused of five public assembly violations linked to the rally in Bangkok's central shopping district in December 2019.

Charges include failing to notify police of a public gathering, blocking a sky train station, using a megaphone without permission and holding a rally close to a royal residence, his lawyer Krisadang Nutcharut said.

"The maximum sentence is six months in jail," he told reporters.

Charges Thursday are part of a slew of recent legal actions against Thanathorn and other Thai MPs elected under the Future Forward banner but who have now shifted to its successor Move Forward Party.

The indictment comes a day after Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, Thailand's first transgender legislator, was disqualified from parliament after the constitutional court found her guilty of owning shares in a media company.

Thanathorn also fell foul of the same electoral law and lost his seat in November last year.

Also facing criminal charges over the December flash mob are Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat and former Future Forward party officials Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, Pannika Wanich and Pairatchote Chantarakachorn. They are due to face trial in December.

"I will honestly fight this case," Pita told reporters outside the attorney general's office on Thursday.

"I will not flee."

Future Forward jolted Thailand's political scene when it entered the fray in 2018, winning 6.3 million votes and drawing the support of mostly young Thais wary of pro-establishment forces in government.

Last year's elections -- the first since a 2014 coup -- saw the party become the third largest in parliament, but its radical agenda ruffled conservative military interests.

It was disbanded by a court in February, a move which fuelled discontent and helped ignite a youth-led pro-democracy movement that has seen near daily rallies since July.

Move Forward MPs have recently drawn the ire of the government for actively participating in those protests, as well as making vocal calls for pro-democracy leaders to be released from prison.

Thai police on Thursday also announced they would summon six demonstrators for questioning over Monday's protest at the German embassy in Bangkok.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn spends long periods in Germany, and has been accused of conducting state business from abroad.

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