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Rome Rangsiman, pro-democracy activist, is escorted by police officers as he arrives at a military court in Bangkok, Thailand June 26, 2017. REUTERS/Panu Wongcha-um


BANGKOK (Reuters) - A Thai activist was charged on Monday with defying the orders of the military government, the latest critic to be arrested for activities outlawed since a 2014 coup.

Rangsiman Rome, 25, who was arrested on Sunday, was charged by a military prosecutor in Bangkok. He faces four charges including taking part in an illegal gathering in 2015 and defying a junta order by distributing leaflets against a constitutional referendum in 2016.

The military overthrew an elected government in May 2014, saying it had to restore order after months of at time violent protests against the ruling populist party.

Since then, the junta has issued edicts aimed at censoring the media and preventing public gatherings of more than five people, among others, in an attempt to impose order in the politically divided country following years of unrest.

Rangsiman, a former student at Bangkok's Thammasat University, told reporters as he entered a military court that he believed he was arrested over questions he had raised over a $5 billion Thai-Chinese railway project rather than his political activity.

The rail project has been promoted by the junta as an ambitious infrastructure project that will revamp Thailand's ageing rail network and boost regional trade but it has been mired in delays.

"I think this is about my plan to go to the Government House to ask for details on the Thai-Chinese project," said Rangsiman.

Some people have criticised the rail project saying China should shoulder more of the costs. The government is sensitive about such criticism.

Yaowalak Anupan, a lawyer for Rangsiman, said her client had been granted bail on condition that he did not leave the country or participate in political activities.

Authorities on Saturday detained an activist attempting to mark a 1932 revolution that ended absolute monarchy, a development celebrated by pro-democracy activists but which has become increasingly taboo under the junta, which has taken a tough stand against critics of the monarchy.

The activist was later released.

Voters overwhelmingly approved a military-backed constitution in August 2016. Rights groups say the military government used repressive tactics to undermine critics of the new constitution.

Some say the charter will consolidate military rule by ensuring the generals have a say in political life, even after a general election tentatively set for 2018.

(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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