Thai Court Finds Three Ministers Guilty of Leading Protests

A court in Thailand has sentenced 26 former protest leaders, including three cabinet ministers, to jail for leading street protests that led to a 2014 coup by army chief-turned-premier Prayuth Chan-Ocha. The ministers were removed from office after Wednesday’s verdict.

The leaders of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, a pro-royalist group that was a precursor to the coup, were found guilty of participating in anti-government demonstrations in 2013 and 2014 against former premier Yingluck Shinawatra.

The protest group had then accused Yingluck’s government of lacking legitimacy and demanded her resignation to remove what it viewed as a regime connected to Yingluck’s brother Thaksin Shinawatra, a self-exiled former premier who was removed in a 2006 coup.

Both Thaksin and Yingluck have been viewed as key rivals to the establishment-backed regime, now led by Prayuth, who’s facing protests that have demanded his resignation and monarchy reform.

The former protesters face between four months to over nine years in prison on charges that included inciting strikes and trespassing. They can all appeal the criminal court’s order in higher courts but at least eight of them have so far been denied bail.

There was no immediate comment from the government.

The verdict resulted in the sentenced officials -- Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan, Digital Economy Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta, and Deputy Transport Minister Thaworn Senneam -- being immediately removed from office. It came four days after Nataphol received the fewest number of votes during no-confidence motions, which Prayuth and all nine ministers survived.

“This actually helps Prayuth in the reshuffle. There’d be no hard feelings of removing anyone,” said Punchada Sirivunnabood, an associate professor of politics at Mahidol University near Bangkok. “It won’t affect the stability of this government.”

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