Ex-minister faces jail for defying Thai junta

BANGKOK - A former cabinet minister could face up to 14 years in jail after being slapped with charges including defying a summons by the Thai junta shortly after it seized power, his lawyer said on Monday.

Chaturon Chaisang, who was education minister in the ousted government, was arrested by soldiers in front of a packed press conference on May 27 just five days after the army seized power and scooped up hundreds of potential dissidents. He was released shortly after but now faces a military court over three charges.

"If found guilty Chaturon faces seven years in jail for inciting unrest, five years for violating computer laws and two years for ignoring the summons," his lawyer Narinpong Jinapak told AFP. The ex-politician was granted bail after his hearing but will return for trial at an unspecified date. Chaturon joins leading anti-coup activist Sombat Boonngamanon in the dock. Sombat, who led a social media campaign to stage peaceful but illegal rallies against the junta, was charged in June with the same crimes and released on bail.

Thailand remains under martial law and both will stand trial in a military court -- which currently carries no right of appeal. After the coup, the Thai generals swiftly suspended the nation's democracy, stifled free speech and protest and put military men in charge of government departments. But they have also embarked on an extensive public relations campaign emphasising the need to "return happiness" to the people after years of bitter political divisions.

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