Thai authorities seize thousands of 'political' red bowls

Former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra has lived overseas for eight years to avoid jail on a graft conviction

Thai authorities have confiscated about 8,000 red bowls bearing a message from ousted ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, police said Sunday, in the junta's latest attempt to block the resurgence of the political party it toppled. The raids followed the arrest last week of a woman seen posing with one of the bowls in photos on social media. She has been charged with sedition, a move slammed by a rights group as absurd. The plastic scoops, used for pouring water in Buddhist ceremonies during Thailand's upcoming new year, bear a note signed by former prime minister Thaksin, whose political bloc has spent the past decade vying for power with a military-backed elite. Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup and now lives in exile, while the government run by his sister Yingluck was toppled by the current junta in 2014. The bowls -- cast in the Shinawatra's signature red colour -- were first distributed at a temple fair last week in the northern province of Chiang Mai. The message printed on the side reads: "The situation may be hot, but brothers and sisters may gain coolness from the water inside this bucket." On Saturday police and soldiers raided homes and offices of three former MPs from the Shinawatras' Puea Thai Party in the northern province of Nan to seize the bowls. "If we allow these bowls to be distributed, it could benefit some political parties or result in losses to others," said officer Prayoon Chamnankong, who led one of the raids. In a social media post Sunday, Thaksin urged the junta to focus on more important matters. "I've done it (given out bowls) several times in the past and it never posed a problem to national security," he wrote, suggesting the junta spend its time tackling other issues such as an ongoing drought and a simmering Muslim insurgency in the far south. The woman arrested last week could be jailed for up to seven years if convicted of sedition. Human Rights Watch called the case evidence that the junta's "intolerance of dissent has reached the point of absolute absurdity". "When military courts try people for sedition for posting photos with holiday gifts from deposed leaders, it's clear that the end of repression is nowhere in sight," said Brad Adams, HRW's Asia director. The junta has outlawed all political activities since its power grab, pledging to heal the kingdom's bitter divides. But critics say the generals are chiefly bent on crippling the Shinawatra clan, who are wildly popular with their rural supporters in the north and northeast but hated by the Bangkok-centric military and royalist elite. A similar attempt to quash the siblings' enduring popularity was made earlier this year when authorities banned a calendar featuring the pair in an embrace. After keeping quiet for much of the past two years, the family's powerful political machine has recently become more vocal as the country gears up for the junta's promised elections in 2017. But public criticism of the regime has landed many Shinawatra allies in brief spells of military detention, which the army describes as "attitude adjustment" sessions.