Nine activists were arrested in Bangkok over Facebook comments critical of Thailand’s ruling junta and its leader Prayuth Chan-o-cha.
The activists referred in their critical Facebook comments to the new draft constitution made by the ruling junta after seizing power in a May 2014 coup. The charter was drafted following the retraction of an old constitution committed to elections in Thailand by 2017. The new draft constitution has been stirring great controversy in Thailand for its fortification of the military power in the state. It is due to be voted on a crucial referendum in August.
The activists were taken to custody by the military on April 27 and have been charged with sedition and computer crimes. Two of the detained activists are facing additional defamation charges against Thai royalty under domestic Article 112.
According to Reuters, the ruling junta has threatened to imprison critics of the draft constitution under the 14 rules which recently became a state law, punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment. The regulations ban “rude, aggressive or intimidating” interviews with the media and forbid “T-shirts, pins and ribbons” which encourage others to campaign. Moreover, Thais are obligated to express their opinions with “polite words”.
Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, criticised the crackdown on freedom of expression in Thailand by directly approaching to her successor, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, in Facebook posts quoted by Asia One:
“I used to be in your position. I understand how you feel when you’re under criticism. As a country’s leader, you are a public figure who must accept criticism both in the positive and negative light on you and your government…
I’ve always told you that people who have different opinions do not mean that they will cause national divisions. People should be encouraged to express opinions for the country’s development”
According to the Freedom House’s Freedom of the Net Report for the year 2015, Thailand is marked as “Not Free”. Political and social content is being blocked and bloggers are being arrested for expressing their opinions online, while the press is being restricted.
The report shows that in 2015, Internet users have been sentenced to up to 60 years in prison for insulting the monarchy online (reduced to 30 years on confession). Additionally, 400 people were arrested over online speech and were forced to reveal their social media passwords as a condition of release.