Fourteen Thai students were taken into custody Saturday after staging an anti-coup rally on charges that could see them jailed for seven years, as the ruling junta sharply escalates its chokehold on dissent.

The pro-democracy campaigners are among the few activists that have dared to publicly challenge Thailand’s military rulers, who imposed severe curbs on civil liberties after seizing power from an elected government last year.

Their arrests Friday followed a peaceful protest calling for an end to junta rule a day earlier at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument, where spirited speeches and songs were met with claps and cheers from dozens of supporters.

Political gatherings and criticism of the junta have been banned under the military regime and on Saturday Thailand’s army chief starkly warned backers of the students to end their support.

The 14 activists — university students in their 20s including one woman — were taken to a remand prison in northern Bangkok in the early hours of Saturday, Colonel Chumphol Chanchanayothin, superintendent of a police station in the capital’s old quarter, told AFP.

They were each charged with “violating national security”, he told AFP, an offence under section 116 of Thailand’s criminal code that carries up to seven years in jail. Lawyers for the activists and rights groups have described the charge as “sedition”.

The students are also charged with breaching the junta order against public gatherings but “face a maximum of seven years in jail”, Chumphol said.

After the charges were filed the activists were taken to Bangkok’s military court late Friday, which was surrounded by scores of their friends and supporters, Kunthika Nutcharut, part of the legal team representing the students, told AFP.

“They refused bail as they don’t recognise the authority of the military court,” she said.


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