A Thai court has acquitted six pro-democracy activists charged with sedition for holding a rally last year demanding free and fair elections, a rights group said.
The criminal court in Bangkok dismissed the sedition charge, saying the activists held their rally peacefully in accordance with Thailand’s constitution.
A charge of unlawful assembly was also rejected as the court said the government had subsequently lifted a ban on political assembly of more than five persons.
Human Rights Watch said the ruling would hopefully discourage authorities from charging more people with criminal offences simply for criticising the government.
“The Thai government should never have put activists on trial for peacefully calling for a free and fair election in the first place,” said HRW Asia director Brad Adams.
“The court’s acquittal of the six pro-democracy activists will hopefully discourage the authorities from pursuing other criminal cases against people critical of military rule.”
Members of a network called “We Want Elections,” Nuttaa Mahattana, Chonthicha Jangrew, Sirawith Seritiwat, Anon Numpha, Kan Pongprapaphan, and Sukrit Piensuwan, held the small protest near Bangkok’s Democracy Monument in February last year.
Frustration had been mounting in Thailand over delays by the military junta in holding elections to return the country to democracy.
Thailand held elections in March this year, five years after the junta seized power in a bloodless coup.
The new civilian government led by former army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has since eased some of the junta-era security controls that had banned political activity, suppressed debate, restricted the media and detained dissidents.
But HRW said when the new government took office in July and the junta disbanded, at least 130 people in Bangkok and other provinces still faced illegal assembly and, in some cases, sedition charges, for holding peaceful rallies or posting support online for those rallies.
“Thailand’s proclaimed path toward democracy will be unconvincing so long as the authorities are bringing politically motivated charges against peaceful critics,” Adams said.