Eight senior members of Thailand’s biggest political party, which ruled the country until a coup four years ago, have been charged for criticising the military government.
Pheu Thai party members – Watana Muangsook, Chaturon Chaisang and Chusak Sirinil – were all charged with sedition on Monday, after a news conference held last week at the party’s headquarters in Bangkok, outlining what they believe are “failings” of the military government.
Five others were charged with violating a government ban on political activities.
“Sedition is clearly the more serious of the charges, and if they are found guilty of that offence, they could be jailed for up to seven years,” Al Jazeera’s Wayne Hay, reporting from the capital, said.
The charges were read out at a Bangkok police station after the military, which has been in power since 2014, filed a complaint on Thursday.
Pheu Thai had denied that Thursday’s meeting was a political gathering, which the military has banned in the country.
Chusak Sirinil, head of the party’s legal team, also threatened to take counter legal action, if there was “an unreasonable charge”.
During its news conference, which was broadcast live on Facebook, Pheu Thai party figures slammed the military for failing to restore democracy by repeatedly postponing the general elections – now set for February 2019.
Tuesday will mark four years since Thailand’s military seized power following a coup in May 2014.
Protesters are expected to march onto the Government House in Bangkok to try to pressure the army to hand power back to a civilian administration.
“The ultimate goal is to have free and fair elections as early as possible because the longer that takes the more opportunities for the junta (military government) to prolong their power as planned after the election,” Nuttha Mahatana, protest leader, told Al Jazeera.
There are also fears of further implications and protests if those charged on Monday are eventually convicted.
“The Pheu Thai party could be dissolved if they are found guilty,” said Al Jazeera’s Hay.
“Given that this is the largest political party in Thailand – going by recent election results, certainly the most popular political party – that may be a step too far for the military government in terms of the reaction that it could create from the supporters of the party,” he added.
The military government has faced a growing number of public protests in recent months, including a pro-democracy demonstration in Bangkok in March, demanding the military withdraw support for the ruling generals.
Last month, in one of the largest protests since the coup, more than 1,000 people defied the military ban on public gatherings and demonstrated in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai against the building of a government luxury housing project on forested land.