In the past week, three Facebook users in Thailand were charged with sedition over posts criticizing the military-led government.
Veteran journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk, Watana Muangsook of the Pheu Thai political party, and former energy minister Pichai Naripthaphan were informed by the police about the sedition charges.
The military grabbed power in 2014 and continues to rule the country through a Constitution it passed in 2016. Aside from strictly regulating the media, it has been aggressively prosecuting individuals accused of either insulting the monarchy or criticizing the junta. Thailand implements a Lese Majeste (anti-Royal Insult) law, which critics believe is being abused by the army to silence dissident voices.
Pravit, a senior reporter for the news website Khaosod English, wrote on August 1, 2017 about how he learned of his sedition case:
I received a call from the Deputy Superintendent of the Technology Crime Suppression Division informing me at about 6.40pm that a police of the rank of Police Lieutenant Colonel is charging me of violating sedition law through an estimate 5 Facebook postings. I insist that I criticize the military regime in good faith […] I will continue to criticize the illegitimate military regime until they take away my smartphone.
The police didn’t inform him which of the Facebook posts he wrote have been deemed seditious by the government.
Pravit was previously ‘invited’ by the army to undergo an ‘attitude-adjustment’ session. This unusual detention is the army’s way of dealing with perceived critics in the media and academe.
If found guilty, Pravit can be detained for up to 20 years.
— Pravit Rojanaphruk (@PravitR) August 4, 2017
Pichai, meanwhile, served under the former prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, who is currently facing a corruption case. According to Khaosod English, Pichai posted the following status update on Facebook, which he claimed he wrote with ‘sincere intentions’:
If the government does not solve it in time, the economic situation will keep deteriorating, like a frog in a pot that gradually boils. I hope the Thai government and Thai people will realize this in time, and be the frog that leaps out before the water boils.
Watana is another member of the Yingluck admnistration who is accused by the police of misleading the public about the justice system and the military-led government through a post he uploaded on Facebook.
Both Pichai and Watana were members of the ruling party before the military staged a coup in 2014.
The two politicians were charged in the same week that Yingluck faced the court on corruption charges related to a rice subsidy scheme, prompting some to wonder whether the charges are meant to silence Yingluck's supporters.
News about the filing of sedition cases against junta critics prompted some Twitter users to comment about the restriction of free speech in the country:
How can anyone be accused of sedition 4 opposing an illegal govt that came to power unconstitutionally by overthrowing a democ elected govt?
— JQ Public (@JQP6) August 5, 2017
One tweet mentioned Prayut, the former army chief who led the 2014 coup and is now the country's prime minister:
— stephff cartoonist (@stephffart) August 3, 2017
The filing of these three separate charges — in the past week alone — against prominent critics of the junta, adds to the growing uncertainty as to whether the military-led government is ready to restore civilian rule and democracy in the country.