A JOURNALIST working for a Thai news portal was detained by police in the central province of Ratchaburi on Sunday while reporting on a group opposed to the military government.
Prachathai reporter Taweesak Kerdpoka was arrested along with three activists from the anti-junta group New Democracy Movement (NDM), Pakorn Areekul, Anucha Rungmorakot and Anan Loked.
The four were detained at the Ban Pong police station after authorities searched the vehicle they had been traveling in and found booklets published by the NDM against the draft charter, as well as stickers that said “Vote No”.
According to Prachathai, the booklet contained “counter information” to the government’s claims regarding the draft constitution and the upcoming referendum, which is set to be held on August 7.
Taweesak had followed the other three to the police station to cover a group of 18 activists who were reporting to police after receiving a summons for conducting an illegal political gathering.
Among the 18 was Boriboon Kiengwarangkoon, a member of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), also known as the red shirts. The UDD has been setting up anti-fraud centers aimed at monitoring for possible instances of fraud in the referendum.
In the referendum, Thai citizens will vote to either accept or reject the draft, which many have criticized for being “undemocratic”.
The four were charged with breaking a junta-imposed ban on campaigning against the draft charter.
In Article 61 of the Referendum Act, it is illegal to publish or disseminate “false”, “vulgar”, “inciteful”, or “intimidating” information regarding the referendum.
Those found convicted of breaching the ban can be punished with a maximum jail sentence of up to 10 years, fined up to 200,000 Baht, and have their electoral rights suspended for five years.
Despite identifying himself as a journalist, Taweesak was still detained by police. He is the first journalist to be arrested under a new law criminalizing criticism of the referendum.
Additional reporting by Associated Press