Thai junta rounds up charter critics

The Thai military wants to enshrine its political power in the new constitution. Source: Wikimedia

The Thai junta has filed legal charges against critics of its proposed constitution and arrested 10 people in connection with social-media posts.

Election Commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakor filed the first complaint under a new law designed to discourage campaigning against the draft constitution, which will go to a referendum on August 7.

There is scepticism about how fair the vote will be.

The penalty for those deemed to have broken the law is up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to 200,000 baht (US$5,700).

The arrests were made in connection with a social group’s Facebook page. The organisation is based in the northeastern province of Khon Kaen, a centre of opposition to the thin-skinned military government and support for the Shinawatra political dynasty that the soldiers ejected from power.

“We’re trying to make an example of those who are explicitly and aggressively posting things about the draft constitution onto the internet,” said Somchai. “People are allowed to post opinions agreeing or disagreeing with the new draft, but we encourage that they do so in an academic fashion with reason and logic, rather than using foul and strong language.”

He added: “We want them to be an example. From now on, people should talk about the constitution using reason.”

Groups on both sides of the political divide have condemned the draft charter as undemocratic.

The UN human rights chief last week urged the junta to abandon the “dangerously sweeping” powers suggested in the new charter and urged the generals to “actively encourage, rather than discourage” discussion.

The law bans unrest and campaigning with a provocative, aggressive or violent manner to influence others.

Separately, the junta detained 10 people associated with the opposition. Government spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvaree said the suspects, including several from Khon Kaen, were seized for comments on social media. The controversial Computer Crime Act has broad definitions that are often applied to political opinions deemed unhelpful by the ruling generals.

The junta is approaching the second anniversary of its May 2014 coup.

The suspects are being held in army bases, where they can be held for a week without being charged.

“The capture of these people is not in accordance with either international or national laws,” said Poonsuk Poonsukcharoen of the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights group. “The power that the army received from the new legislation to capture and detain people for expressing opinions against the draft constitution is being used in the wrong way. These arrests are creating a sense of fear among the public.”

More activists in Bangkok were locked up when they staged a peaceful protest against the earlier arrests.