BANGKOK (AP) — Police in Thailand have arrested a political activist accused of threatening national security by posting a comment on Facebook about how royal families in other nations lost power.
The arrest Monday night of Karn Pongpraphapan came after an unprecedented amount of social media commentary last week that implicitly criticized Thailand’s monarchy by complaining about congestion caused by police blocking traffic for the motorcades of royal family members.
Criticism of the monarchy is taboo, and sharing material deemed insulting to it is punishable by 3-15 years’ imprisonment.
The blocking of traffic for royal vehicles has long been the subject of private grumbling, but recent road congestion unleashed a torrent of tweets with the Thai language hashtag meaning #royalmotorcade, some veering into sharper comments. The hashtag was used hundreds of thousands of times.
A statement issued Tuesday by the police Technology Crime Suppression Division referred to “inappropriate hashtags” that circulated last week on social networks and were allegedly created by an unscrupulous group of people. It accused the arrested suspect, who was not identified by name in the statement, of posting “inappropriate content” on his Facebook page “spreading hatred.”
Thai media reported that Karn’s Facebook post referred to the fall of monarchies in Russia, France and Germany, but not Thailand.
The police statement said the post received around 100 comments and 50 shares, causing “a number of people to be very upset.”
In reaction, Minister of Digital Economy and Society Buddhipongse Punnakanta was said to have ordered the police technology division to investigate, leading to the arrest. Police charged Karn under Section 14 of the Computer Crime Act, “posting contents that are a threat to national security,” an offense punishable by up to five years in prison. He was released on bail Tuesday afternoon and ordered by the court not to post similar comments again.
Karn’s lawyer, Winyat Chatmontree, told The Associated Press that his 25-year-old client was arrested for posting about foreign history on his Facebook page on Oct. 2, and took down the post after a few hours when it became controversial.
“I think the authorities want to make an example of him to send a message to others who express their minds freely on many issues,” Winyat said. He said Karn had nothing to do with the motorcade hashtag.
An arrest was not surprising in view of the attention the hashtag attracted. Digital Economy Minister Buddhipongse announced Sunday that his office and the police would soon arrest those who used offensive words about the Thai royal family. He appeared to be reacting to criticism from royalists who accused him of failing to act.
Buddhipongse said at a news conference Tuesday that while some accused his ministry of not doing enough on the issue, “we are not targeting anyone in particular and we have done everything by the book and based on facts, especially getting permission from a court of law.”
Thailand’s government is headed by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who as army commander staged a coup in 2014 and headed a military regime that ran the country until this year. A military-backed party won a March election that critics charged was unfair, and Prayuth was reappointed prime minister. The military considers protecting the monarchy one of its major missions.