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May 30, 2017

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Thailand's junta detains anti-coup leader

BANGKOK--Thailand's junta said Friday that it had captured a fugitive anti-coup leader facing possible imprisonment, as the ruling generals seek to stamp out any criticism of their seizure of power.

Sombat Boonngamanong, who spearheaded an online campaign to stage illegal flashmob rallies against the military takeover, was arrested late Thursday in Chonburi southeast of Bangkok, army spokeswoman Sirichan Ngathong said.

"We have a team who tracked him through the Internet," she told AFP.

Sombat faces charges of defying an order to report to the junta, which carries a possible punishment of two years in prison.

He is expected to be detained at an army facility for up to one week for questioning and then brought before a military court.

Sombat was one of several hundred politicians, activists, academics and journalists summoned by the junta, formally known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), following the May 22 coup.

Those who attended were detained in secret locations for up to a week and ordered to cease political activities.

Sombat, a prominent pro-democracy activist, refused to turn himself in, instead posting a message on Facebook saying: "Catch me if you can."

Since then he has urged followers to stage peaceful public demonstrations, flashing the three-finger salute from "The Hunger Games" films that has become a symbol of defiance against the junta.

"The military manhunt and arrest of Sombat shows the NCPO's shameful refusal to recognize basic rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly," said Brad Adams, Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch.

"Next we'll see a travesty of justice as the NCPO drags him in front of a military tribunal that resembles a kangaroo court more than a proper court of law."

Sombat is the leader of a faction of the "Red Shirts" movement, which broadly supports fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister Yingluck, who was deposed as prime minister last month.

His supporters reacted to news of his arrest with dismay.

"What has he done wrong? Did he kill anybody?" one follower wrote on his Facebook page.

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