BANGKOK (AP) - Thailand’s new military junta ordered all national TV stations to broadcast videos Wednesday showing some of the prominent political figures it has detained in an effort to convince the public that people in army custody are being treated well.
The videos showed five detainees speaking to army officers at an undisclosed location. The most prominent was Jatuporn Prompan, leader of the “Red Shirt” movement that had vowed to take action if the military seized power.
Within hours of broadcasting the videos, Jatuporn and four other Red Shirt leaders were released from custody.
“I have no idea where we were because we were blindfolded on the way there and back,” said Kokaew Pikulthong, who was among the five released. “We were treated OK. It was not fancy, but it was a livable condition.”
The army, which still holds in custody several senior officials in the government it overthrew, has summoned 253 people, mostly politicians, scholars, journalists and activists seen as critical of the regime. Roughly 70 are still in custody, about 130 have been released and 53 have failed to show up, a spokesman for the junta, Col. Weerachon Sukhondhapatipak, told a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
Jatuporn was seized May 22 when the coup unfolded after the army called the country’s political rivals together for peace talks. He was seen in the video wearing a white T-shirt while talking to an army officer. He seemed fatigued but at ease.
“Right now it’s good,” he said in the video, chuckling. “I’ve been treated well.”
Jatuporn, however, was unable to speak freely, and the military confiscated all cellphones of those in custody.
“Now everyone knows how each other feels and that they do not want the country and everything to be damaged any further,” he said, sitting at a table with three small bottles of water and a plate of bananas and apples.
“I never asked where this location is,” Jatuporn said, laughing again. “Nobody knows where it is.”
The army takeover, Thailand’s second in eight years, deposed an elected government that had insisted for months that the nation’s fragile democracy was under attack from protesters, the courts, and finally the army.
At the center of Thailand’s deep political divide is Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister supported by many rural Thais for his populist programs but despised by others - particularly Bangkok’s elite and middle classes - over allegations of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for the monarchy.
He was ousted in 2006 and lives abroad to avoid serving prison time for a corruption conviction, but held great influence over the overthrown government, which had been led by his sister until a court ousted her this month.
Deputy army Col. Nattawut Chancharoen said the detainee videos were released “due to criticism and concern from everyone” regarding those in custody.
He said nobody would be held more than seven days, and no one was being beaten or tortured. “Once there’s confidence that the situation is under control, we will … release them,” he said.