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Detentions silence coup critics in army-ruled Thailand

Their names read out on national television, politicians, activists, academics and journalists are among scores of influential people summoned by Thailand's junta and arbitrarily held in secret locations.

BANGKOK: Their names read out on national television, politicians, activists, academics and journalists are among scores of influential people summoned by Thailand's junta and arbitrarily held in secret locations.

Over 250 people have been called in since the army seized power and took top political figures into custody on Thursday during negotiations purporting to be aimed at navigating a path through the kingdom's debilitating political strife.

Dozens are still being held while 53 are in hiding, risking two years in prison for defying the military summons.

And while some people have been freed, including former premiers Yingluck Shinawatra and Abhisit Vejjajiva, the junta says more people will be called.

Military authorities have already cast their net wide.

Troops raided the house of rights activist Sukanya Prueksakasemsuk, whose husband Somyot was jailed for 11 years under the kingdom's strict royal insult laws last year, briefly detaining her and her son in a move decried by Human Rights Watch as "disturbing".

Even academics and journalists traditionally thought to be close to the army have been called in -- although some have not been held.

After days of spiriting people into undisclosed military facilities, the junta on Tuesday released footage of "Red Shirt" protest leaders to show they were safe and well.

The Red Shirts are broadly aligned with Yingluck and her divisive brother Thaksin Shinawatra -- also a former premier, who was ousted in a 2006 coup.

Jatuporn Prompan appeared in the video, wearing loose white clothing and looking tired and unkempt, sitting in a bare room with a uniformed soldier.

"We do not know where we are," Jatuporn said in the clip released by the government.

Several Red Shirt leaders were released on Wednesday, two days after senior figures in the anti-Thaksin movement were freed.

The junta has defended the continuing round-up, mainly of supporters of the ousted government, and insists that those being held have not been beaten or tortured.

"If we do not take some of them into custody, their lives might be in danger from ill-intentioned people who want to inflame the situation," said an announcement from the authorities late Tuesday.

Thailand has undergone 19 actual or attempted coups since 1932, but in a sign that military tactics are at least in some ways moving with the times, lists of those wanted by the junta have appeared on an official Facebook page.

The country has been rocked by persistent and sometimes violent political turmoil for nearly a decade since Thaksin was deposed.

"The military seems to be calling in a lot more people than expected," said Panitan Wattanayagorn, an academic at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok and former government spokesman under the establishment-allied Democrat Party.

"They seem to have an idea that they may be able to convince them, talk to them," he told AFP.

Thai journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk, who has been a vocal critic of the coup, was the first reporter to be summoned by the junta.

He reported to a Bangkok army conference centre on Sunday with black tape across his mouth in protest and has not been seen since.

His employer, the English-language Nation newspaper has stood by its reporter, slamming his detention as "akin to curtailing press freedom".

On Tuesday, former cabinet minister Chaturon Chaisang was detained by soldiers in a dramatic swoop on a press conference in Bangkok after he emerged from hiding, having ignored a summons.

"The coup is not a solution to problems of conflict in Thailand," he told reporters before he was captured.

Those freed from detention are required to sign a document proclaiming that they have been well treated in custody and promising not to conduct any political activity.

Thailand's army chief and royal-approved leader on Monday said the military was monitoring the every move of people released and their financial activity and would not hesitate to prosecute them in martial courts.

AFP has spoken to a number of those released, but they were too afraid to be interviewed on the record.

A leader of the anti-government protests that rocked Thailand for months before the coup said rival protesters had been kept at the same facility in very basic accommodation.

"We lived in the same compound but we did not associate much with them," he said, asking not to be named.

Academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a former diplomat and Thai politics researcher at Japan's Kyoto University, believes he was the only overseas-based person summoned and has declined the invitation unless the junta pay his first class airfare home.

"If I go back they could always file charges against me," he told AFP, adding that the round up was aimed at "intimidating" people.

"This is absurd. I get really angry, I have done nothing wrong," he said.

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