Car of Thai anti-junta activist torched after protest rally

In this photo released by anti-military rule activist Ekachai Hongkangwan, the personal vehicle owned by Ekachai sits destroyed by fire on the side of a road early Monday, April 1, 2019, in Bangkok, Thailand, hours after he attended a rally calling the recent general elections mismanaged. Ekachai has been the repeated target of physical and legal attacks, including a previous one on his car that did less damage. On March 5, he was attacked by two unidentified men on a motorcycle who tried to beat him with a wooden stick and a metal pipe. (Ekachai Hongkangwan via AP)

BANGKOK — An activist opposed to military rule in Thailand says his car was set on fire and gutted early Monday, just hours after he attended a rally protesting the Election Commission's alleged mismanagement of the March 24 general election.

Ekachai Hongkangwan has been the repeated target of physical and legal attacks, including a previous one on his car that did less damage. On March 5, he was attacked by two men on a motorcycle who tried to beat him with a wooden stick and a metal pipe.

Before his car was torched, Ekachai had joined fellow activists at a rally to gather signatures for the impeachment of Election Commission members. The rally was the first notable public protest since the election, whose results are to be officially confirmed on May 9. The Election Commission has been accused of releasing delayed and inconsistent vote totals, among other faults.

A statement issued Monday by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha's office appeared to be a response to election protests.

"There are groups of people with bad intentions who create misinformation and use social media and agents to plant false ideas with the people, with the aim of creating chaos and damaging the country, religion, and monarchy," it said.

It said the government would enforce the rule of law and urged all citizens to be aware of the situation.

"If everyone cooperates and helps prevent the country from disturbance or slipping back into chaos, our country will be able to move toward sustainable and stable development," it said. The military has said it staged a 2014 coup against an elected government because of chaotic political conditions.

The junta took power after the coup and has changed the constitution and election laws to handicap parties opposed to it. Prayuth, who is junta chief as well as prime minister, is expected to return to office, largely due to the electoral measures implemented by the military government.

However, he could become prime minister but have a House of Representatives under opposition control, making it hard to pass laws and a budget. With weeks to go before final election results are certified, opponents of the junta are fearful that the Election Commission may disqualify enough of the winning anti-junta lawmakers to make it impossible for them to form a majority in the lower house.

Ekachai has been a well-known activist since at least 2013, when he was sentenced to three years in prison for allegedly defaming the monarchy by selling CDs which contained an ABC Australia documentary and copies of WikiLeaks documents.

He told The Associated Press on Monday that he believed his car was damaged because of his work on the election, but that "it is useless to be fearful. They want us to be afraid. So, if I am afraid, they will get what they want." He said another activist who had been campaigning for signatures had been assaulted.

Ekachai said it was lucky that 200-300 signed petitions that were in his car were only burned around the edges and were still in good condition.

"I will definitely use them, adding them to our petition effort," he said.

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