Thai Authorities Arrest 10 People Over Online Comments

Nontarat Phaicharoen
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TH-politics-1000.jpg Police detain activists in Bangkok for defying a ban on public gatherings of five people or more, and for protesting against the arrests of government critics, April 27, 2016.

Thailand’s junta Wednesday arrested 10 people for allegedly posting “disturbing” messages on social media, amid rising tensions over an upcoming constitutional referendum.

In related news, 16 other people were detained in Bangkok for demonstrating against the arrests of the first 10, according to Thai pro-democracy group Resistant Citizen.

Meanwhile, Election Commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn told reporters in Bangkok that his office had filed a complaint against a group for criticizing the proposal via Facebook posts, under a new law that prohibits people from campaigning during the run-up to the Aug. 7 referendum.

Somchai did not identify the group that was the target of his office’s complaint but said it was “a fund” based in Khon Khaen, a northeastern province.

Two people from Khon Khaen were among the 10 taken into custody Wednesday, and a spokesman for the junta said authorities were investigating whether the detainees had criticized the referendum through online comments.

Somchai said the group associated with the fund in Khom Khaen had been posting messages on Facebook that contained “foul language” and tried to persuade people to vote “no” in the referendum.

“The action is deemed a violation of Section 61 of the constitution bill and maybe subject 10-year jail term,” he said.

“Whether the two detained in Khon Khaen by the military are connected to the fund’s Facebook account, I don’t know but I have filed the case with the police,” he added.

When a junta-appointed commission unveiled the draft charter in late March, it said elections would take place later on but warned that it would go after people who criticized the proposed constitution.

The document is controversial because it contains a clause that would allow the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to hand pick all 250 senators, including six officers from the military’s top brass. The junta seized power from a civilian-led government in May 2014.

On Wednesday, NCPO spokesman Col. Winthai Suwaree briefed reporters about the detention of the 10 people, including eight from Bangkok and two from Khon Khaen.

“The officials invited those individuals to seek their cooperation to stop defying the rules,” Winthai told a news conference in Bangkok.

“The officials conducted the operations in line with the rule of law and want to make known to the public that they are under custody, and none have gone missing. Everyone is there and their detention is traceable, so don’t worry,” he said.

Winthai declined to name the 10 detainees. Apart from trying to determine whether the 10 had violated the new referendum-related law, he said that an investigation had found they had violated the country’s Computer Crimes Act.

‘Relatives and friends are searching’

Another pro-democracy group, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, voiced concern about the arrests of the 10 and named five of them: Nopklao Kongsuwan, Supachai Saibutr, Wararat Mengpramul, Harit Mahathon, and Nithi Kulthanasilp.

“At 6 a.m., about 20 armed military officers raided Harit’s and Nithi’s residence in Khon Kaen, confiscated Harit’s mobile phone, computer, and passport, and arrested Harit and Nithi without informing [them about] the cause or the location of detention,” the lawyer’s group said in a statement.

“Relatives and families are searching for them, but there’s no official information of their whereabouts.”

Elsewhere, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha on Wednesday defended the arrests.

“What rights do you have to allow you to use social media to ridicule others? You misuse the rule of law and [human] rights? Does the law allow you to?” Prayuth told reporters in Chiang Mai.

“If they didn’t break the law, no one could have arrested them,” he added.


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