RIGHTS and anti-corruption activist Veera Somkwamkid is the focus of a manhunt by police in Thailand after a warrant was issued for his arrest for allegedly violating the Computer Crime Act.
According to Bangkok Post, Veera is accused of spreading false information online and causing damage to the public after he posted the results of a Facebook survey that suggested the majority of Thai people lack confidence in the government and the prime minister.
It is alleged by the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) that Veera conducted a survey on his own Facebook page and later posted the results.
As a well-known public figure, the TCSD felt that the information posted could mislead the public and cause damage to the government and the prime minister. It was this belief that prompted them to seek a warrant for his arrest.
Veera, chairman of People’s Rights and Liberty Protection Group and secretary-general of the People’s Network Against Corruption, was a former leader of the yellow shirt movement and has been a vocal critic of the ruling military regime.
While many of his compatriots in the movement approved of the 2014 coup that removed former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra from power and installed the current military rule, Veera continued to call out the junta for allegations of nepotism and corruption.
In the tongue-in-cheek survey, Veera asked people to voice their opinion on General Prayuth Chan-o-cha, the leader of the ruling military junta, by selecting which of eight choices they thought was correct, a source told Bangkok Post.
The first seven choices were phrases taken from the National Council for Peace and Order’s song called Rao Cha Tham Tam Sanya (we are fulfilling our promises), while the last choice was “all the above choices are wrong”, said the source.
The majority of responders opted for the last choice, implying none of the military’s promises had been fulfilled.
The police raided Veera’s home in Bangkok on Monday after the warrant was approved but the activist was nowhere to be found.
Hours after the raid, Veera posted on his Facebook page that he will turn himself in on Wednesday.
“I’m announcing this publicly: The police don’t need to waste their time finding me. I will meet with (investigators) on Wednesday,” Veera wrote, as reported by Khaosod.
He said he is willing to contest the charge in court but has expressed fear the security forces may abduct him and place him in military prison before he gets the chance to meet with police, fearing the worst for his safety should this happen.
“Are we clear? A man like Veera Somkwamkid never runs away from the law. I’m ready to contest my case. But I’m not ready to be murdered,” he said.
Olan Sukkasem of the TCSD, said Veera’s intention was to defame the government, an act that is illegal in Thailand.
“You read it, and you can see his intention,” Olan said.
The use of the Computer Crime Act by the ruling junta has come under fire from rights groups who feel that the law is being used by the government to silence critics and get rid of political opponents.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned the use in a statement last year saying the law gives “overly broad powers” to the government to “restrict free speech, enforce surveillance and censorship, and retaliate against activists.”
Hundreds of activists have been prosecuted under the law since the military came to power back in May 2014. Amendments made to the law in December 2016 made it “even easier for the junta to punish its critics,” according to Brad Adams, Asia director of HRW.