THAILAND has requested the return of half a dozen of its citizens from neighbouring Laos who have reportedly sought refuge there to escape arrest for insulting the Thai monarchy.
Associated Press (via South China Morning Post) reported on Tuesday that General Thawip Netniyom, head of Thailand’s National Security Council, claimed that the people being sought are accused of using social media to attack the monarchy, an offence that is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Gen. Netniyom has been instructed by the Thai Defence Ministry to secure a meeting with Laotian authorities to discuss a possible exchange of people from each country.
“Although Thailand and Laos do not have an official agreement to extradite suspects, we can proceed in terms of mutually beneficial cooperation. If Laos wants a criminal who violated the law in Laos and is hiding in Thailand, they may ask Thai officials to make an arrest and send that person back,” Netniyom said.
The individuals that are being sought by the government were associated with the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, or as they are more commonly known, the Red Shirt movement. They are a political pressure group opposed the ruling military government who came to power in a coup in 2014.
The group originated following the 2006 coup that deposed then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and has since remained solid supporters of the Pheu Thai Party, that was fronted by Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, until the latest 2014 coup.
The Red Shirts have been a vocal critic of both the 2006 and 2014 coup, which resulted in mass protests in the streets of Bangkok in 2010. Approximately 90 people were killed in the protests when the army carried out a violent crackdown on the dissenting gangs.
Thai Defence Ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantravich claimed the people being sought “are causing divisiveness to another country. They are smearing the government and smearing the institution, which is dangerous”. The monarchy is often described with respect as “the institution.”
Kongcheep told The Associated Press that “They are not suspects, they are dangerous people.”
The government has been criticised by the international community over the arrest of people for violating the lese majeste law. Human Rights Watch says since the 2014 coup, authorities have charged at least 68 persons with under the law, largely for posting or sharing comments online, many of which have resulted in lengthy prison sentences.
The government has urged citizens to report cases of lese majeste to authorities and asked Internet service providers to monitor and block inappropriate material.
The Thai junta’s tough stance on dissenters has led critics to believe that the law is being used to silence political opponents.