Thai anti-government protest leaders in court

Korkaew Pikulthong, one of the leaders of the red-shirt movement, arrives for a hearing at Bangkok Criminal Court
Image caption The 17 red-shirt leaders could face the death penalty if found guilty of terrorism

Leaders of the Thailand anti-government protests that brought part of Bangkok to a standstill earlier this year have appeared in court and pleaded not guilty to terrorism charges.

The 17 so-called red-shirts are also accused of inciting violence and threatening officials.

At least 90 people were killed during 10 weeks of protests and clashes.

It comes as emergency rule was lifted in three provinces. It remains in force in seven areas including Bangkok.

The 17 men, who were chained at the ankles, denied all charges against them in a preliminary hearing at Bangkok Criminal Court.

The next hearing was set for 27 September. They could face the death penalty if found guilty of terrorism.

Human rights concerns

The state of emergency, which was first imposed in April, officially bans gatherings of more than five people and grants the security forces sweeping powers to censor media and detain suspects without charge for up to 30 days.

Gradually the government has been lifting the special provisions in provinces where, in its view, the security situation has stabilised.

That now includes three provinces in the north and north-east, where the anti-government protest movement has its roots.

Some Western governments and several human rights groups have expressed concern about the continued use of the law.

The government said its latest decision was taken to help business and tourism.