December 21, 2015 / 5:28 AM / in 2 years

Eleven activists summoned amid deepening Thai park scandal

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai police on Monday said they will charge 11 activists who tried to stage a protest over suspected corruption in an army-built park with illegal assembly as allegations of irregularities in the park’s funding persist.

Thai people pay their respect to giant bronze statues of former King Ram Khamhaeng after a religious ceremony at Ratchapakdi Park in Hua Hin, Prachuap Khiri Khan province, Thailand, July 27, 2015. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Dozens of students activists were arrested on Dec. 7 while trying to protest against alleged army corruption after a train they were traveling on was intercepted.

Police and soldiers held the students before they could rally outside the multi-million-dollar Rajabhakti Park, built in the seaside resort town of Hua Hin south of Bangkok and dedicated to the monarchy. They were later released.

The park has been at the center of allegations of corruption and misspent funds that threaten to embroil the junta.

A military probe into its finances found no corruption, but graft accusations persist among opposition groups and the media and the scandal has been a thorn in the ruling junta’s side for weeks, threatening a veneer of stability in the country.

Police spokesman Police Major General Piyaphand Pingmuang said police summoned the group after the junta, or National Council for Peace and Order, filed a complaint.

“They will be charged and we will investigate them,” Piyaphand told reporters. “They will be able to request bail but if they are not bailed they will be detained.”

Since taking power last year, the junta has placed restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly and has gone hard after perceived critics.

The park issue and a major probe into a group of people who allegedly insulted the monarchy come at a time when the junta is cracking down on perceived royal defamation, with prosecutions sky-rocketing since the 2014 coup.

It also comes as the military struggles to revive Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy.

“The junta is using the law as a tool for political purposes,” said Anon Nampha, a rights lawyer and one of the 11 people summoned.

“What we did was to highlight graft and we will continue to do this as is our right - our purpose was not political,” he said.

Police said the activists had the right to ignore the summons twice but that arrest warrants would be issued for them if they fail to show up a third time.

Reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Nick Macfie

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