- Associated Press - Monday, September 7, 2020

BANGKOK (AP) - Two top leaders of Thailand’s pro-democracy protest movement were released from jail on Monday after police agreed they no longer needed to be detained for investigation.

Bangkok Criminal Court last Thursday ordered Arnon Nampha and Panupong Jadnok to be held in Bangkok Remand Prison after police alleged they had violated their bail conditions.

They had been granted bail last month on charges including sedition arising from a protest rally in Bangkok in July, Sedition carries a seven-year maximum prison sentence. Police said their continued involvement in demonstrations violated the terms of their release.

Both men have remained defiant, and again on Monday said they would continue their public protest activities.

“We will go on with our movement as previously planned, it will be moving forward to some other issues,” Arnon told reporters in front of the prison after his release. “And we will definitely join in the protest on Sept. 19 and others.” The Sept. 19 rally is expected to be the biggest so far. Protest organizers say more than 10,000 people attended an Aug. 16 protest.

Police canceled their remand request at the court’s suggestion, the court said in a statement. It said the police request was withdrawn because their investigation had progressed enough that the two no longer needed to be held. They could have been held for up to 48 days without formal charges.

The protest movement, spearheaded by students, has declared three core demands: holding new elections, amending the constitution and ending the intimidation of government critics.

It says the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha came to power undemocratically, Prayuth, then army commander, staged a coup in 2014 and became prime minister again last year after a general election under rules that were widely seen as favorable to him.

Arnon and several other activists have pushed harder, calling for far-reaching reforms to the monarchy. The royal institution has traditionally been sacrosanct and is protected by a lese majeste law that provides for up to 15 years’ imprisonment for defaming the monarchy.

The authorities, while sometimes publicly criticizing the protesters in strong terms, have been treating them gingerly in an apparent effort to avoid making them political martyrs who could rally even more support.

Arnon and Panupong are among more than 30 protest leaders who have answered summons for arrest but all have been allowed to walk free, with a handful held overnight to complete legal formalities. The flurry of charges against them include minor offenses, such as blocking traffic.

Arnon and Panupong were told last week they could apply again for bail, and Panupong was offered it on the spot by the court, but they decided to accept their detention.

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