Storm in a Thai red bowl

A Facebook user in Thailand was arrested and charged with sedition for posting a photograph of a red bowl given to her by the ousted former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.

The bowl, one of many that were once distributed among Thaksin’s supporters in northern Thailand, is intended to be used during the traditional water ceremonies in the Songkran festival (also known as the Thai New Year), which takes place this month.

Thaksin was deposed in a coup in 2006 although he remained popular among voters. He went into exile to avoid detention after he was found guilty of corruption. In 2011 his younger sister Yingluck was elected prime minister. The army then removed her from power in May 2014 and continues to lead the country through its appointed officials. It promised to restore civilian rule once it implemented political and electoral reforms, but this has yet to take place.

Many of Thaksin’s supporters are members of the Red Shirts, who launched massive rallies in Bangkok in 2010. The army has banned public protests, including the activities of the Red Shirts and Thaksin’s party (Pheu Thai), in the name of political stability.

The army has accused Thaksin of trying to incite division in the country by encouraging his supporters to challenge authorities. Thaksin has denied this charge. Last January, the junta banned the distribution of calendars that bore the photos of Thaksin and Yingluck.

The red bowl photo used as a basis for arresting the Facebook user is etched with the message: “The situation may be hot, but brothers and sisters may gain coolness from the water inside this bucket.”

Thai authorities acted quickly and arrested the Facebook user, a 57-year-old woman from northern Thailand. She was released after posting a bail of about $2 800. If found guilty, she could spend up to seven years in jail.

Former army chief and now Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha defended the sedition charge. “It was [a show of] support for people who have violated laws and run away from criminal charge,” he said.

The reporter of a newspaper who broke the story was also detained by the army. He was allowed to go home but was told not to write another “misleading” story. The army subsequently raided the home of a former politician and confiscated more than 8 000 red bowls.

The army defended the raid and accused Thaksin of trying to sow confusion by placing his photo and name on the red bowls.

The red bowl issue is cited by activists and human rights groups as further proof of the junta’s intolerance of dissent. Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch adds: “The Thai junta’s fears of a red plastic bowl show its intolerance of dissent has reached the point of absolute absurdity.

“When military courts try people for sedition for posting photos with holiday gifts from deposed leaders, it’s clear that the end of repression is nowhere in sight.” –

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