FORMER Thai energy minister, Pichai Naripthaphan, met with police Friday to acknowledge a charge of sedition filed against him – the third junta critic to be accused of such this week.
Pichai, who served under former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, maintains that he criticised the government in good faith with comments he made on social media.
According to Khaosod English, in a July 26 post, Pichai said Thailand is suffering economic malaise that will escalate into disastrous proportions if junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha does not take appropriate action.
“If the government does not solve it in time, the economic situation will keep deteriorating, like a frog in a pot that gradually boils,” Pichai wrote. “I hope the Thai government and Thai people will realise this in time, and be the frog that leaps out before the water boils.”
Pichai’s meeting with police comes the same day as award-winning Thai journalist, Pravit Rojanaphruk, described how the charges of sedition against him created a “chilling effect” amid an ongoing crackdown on critics of the military government.
He was accused on Monday of sedition and cyber crime over five Facebook posts in which he criticized the junta, police said.
1) Tech Crime Suppression Police rang me @ 6.40pm saying a police @ d division is accusing me of sedition 4 my Facebook postings. #Thailand
— Pravit Rojanaphruk (@PravitR) August 1, 2017
He denies the accusations, saying his criticism was in good faith and the charges against him were aimed at intensifying a climate of fear on the internet.
“This creates a chilling effect, because the junta is afraid of social media platforms. The online space is a new frontier where criticism is hard for them to control,” Pravit told Reuters.
Pravit will hear the charges against him on Tuesday.
It has become common for the military government to summon anyone who expresses dissent for “attitude adjustment” sessions in military camps, banning public gatherings and detaining critics.
But government spokesman Weerachon Sukhontapatipak said criticism had not been outlawed.
“It depends on the intention and the delivery… But if it violates existing laws, it must be dealt with accordingly,” Weerachon told Reuters.
Despite these claims, rights groups have condemned the sedition charges against Pravit, with Amnesty International pointing out that:
“There appears to be no end to the Thai authorities’ determination to stamp out any form of criticism, whether online or on the streets. In the past few years, dozens of people have faced sedition charges for peacefully criticising the junta, including for their use of Facebook and other social media.”
— CPJ (@pressfreedom) August 4, 2017
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists called for Thai authorities to “stop threatening Pravit Rojanaphruk for his writing,” stating “The threat to charge a critical journalist with sedition charges for his Facebook posts shows just how badly press freedom has deteriorated in Thailand under military rule.”
Under article 116 of Thailand’s Criminal Code, sedition charges carry a maximum sentence of seven years in prison. If charged and convicted, Pravit could be sentenced to seven years in prison for each Facebook post, for a total of 35 years.
He could also face parallel criminal charges under the Computer Crime Act for disseminating seditious materials online, which carries maximum penalties of five years for each post, potentially adding up to an additional 25 years behind bars.
The accusations came as Thailand’s military government seeks to strengthen its online monitoring.
It has also asked Facebook to remove offensive content and threatened the opposition with cyber-crime charges.
Additional reporting from Reuters