BANGKOK: Thai police Monday offered a financial reward to anyone providing photographic or video evidence to help them convict anti-coup protesters in an intensifying crackdown against critics of last month's military takeover.
In the latest strike on freedom of expression since the army seized power on May 22, a lone man reading George Orwell's anti-authoritarian novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four" while eating a sandwich was arrested Sunday outside a popular Bangkok shopping mall.
"Police will reward people who take photos of demonstrators making any form of anti-junta protest," deputy national police chief Somyot Poompanmoung told AFP on Monday.
"Any person who submits a photo or video to us which can be used as legal evidence to convict a protester will get a reward of 500 baht ($15) for each submission," he said, adding that the police were also looking for tip-offs on anti-coup protests on social media such as Instagram and Facebook.
The so-called "sandwich protests" are one example of the small but increasingly creative methods of resistance employed by opponents of the coup in defiance of an army edict banning political demonstrations.
They were reportedly inspired by a group of students who gave out free sandwiches to passers-by a few weeks ago after their plan to hold a picnic rally was scuppered by authorities.
Political assemblies of more than five people were outlawed under martial law declared by army chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha last month but the regime is responding increasingly aggressively to other forms of protest.
On Sunday scores of police officers rushed to surround the sunglasses-wearing lone protester, smartly dressed in a white shirt and red tie, when he whipped out his copy of Orwell's book and started munching on a sandwich.
He was one of 10 people arrested in and around the mall for demonstrating against the coup, said Somyot.
Flashmobs and three fingered salutes
The police chief did not provide details of why the others were detained but said the arrestees also included a woman wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words "Respect my vote".
They have all since been released, he added.
"There would have been many people in the mall who opposed their protest... The police had to detain them for their own security," he said.
In the weeks following the military takeover opponents have staged small demonstrations including flashmob rallies, with the majority held in the capital.
Some people have taken to the streets for public readings of Orwell's novel and earlier this month protesters unfurled a giant poster of Prayut's face with the words "Thailand 1984" emblazoned below.
The depiction of a dystopian state in "Nineteen Eighty-Four", in which Big Brother watches and controls everything, has been compared to post-coup Thailand by opponents of the new regime.
A three-finger salute from "The Hunger Games" films has become another symbol of resistance against the junta, which has suspended democracy and curtailed freedom of expression in the kingdom.
The Thai coup follows years of political divisions between a military-backed royalist establishment and the family of fugitive former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thaksin or his affiliated parties have won every election in more than a decade, including in 2011 under his younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra, helped by support among voters in the northern half of the country.
Yingluck was ousted as premier shortly before the coup in a controversial court ruling. -AFP
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