Thai policeman held for posting video mocking PM

Critics decry officer's detention as a sign of the government's determination to stifle freedom of expression
Thai policeman held for posting video mocking PM

A man wears a shirt mocking Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan at a pro-democracy rally against Thailand's government at Thammasat University in Bangkok on Feb. 26. (Photo: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP)

Thailand’s lack of free speech was thrown into sharp relief when a policeman was detained for posting online a lighthearted parody clip of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

In a clip posted on the popular social media app TikTok, police sergeant major Samart Pimpakon mocked Prayut, a mercurial former army chief, over his tendency to lose his temper. 

As disciplinary punishment for the clip, Samart was detained in solitary confinement for three days from March 6, a senior police officer announced.

The officer added that Samart had regretted posting the clip on his account where he also lampooned several other well-known politicians.

Over the past years several Thais have been arrested for criticizing or mocking Prayut, who seized power in a coup in 2014, and other senior figures in the government.

Prayut remains in charge of Thailand’s government after parliamentary elections last year that foreign observers deemed only partially free. 

The former army chief, well known for his fiery temper, has routinely lashed out at critics of his government’s policies.

He and other senior army chiefs have also subjected journalists who asked probing questions at press conferences to public tongue-lashings.

“He’s fairly thin-skinned,” a Bangkok-based foreign correspondent told UCA News. “Then again, so are most generals and politicians in this country.”

The correspondent added: “They are used to a paternalistic culture where they don’t need to face any pushback from people [they deem to be] lower on the social pyramid.”

In seeking to stifle critical voices on social media, authorities routinely invoke Thailand’s draconian Computer Crime Act.

People who are found to have violated the law by posting critical comments or other content on the internet can face years in prison.

“The Thai authorities have often invoked national security to silence perceived critics and peaceful political opponents,” Katherine Gerson, Amnesty International’s Thailand campaigner, said in a statement.

Last month Digital Economy and Society Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta recommended setting up a state agency to control all local news in the case of a “national emergency” with the aim of eliminating “inappropriate content.”

Media professionals decried the proposal, saying it was another attempt by Thailand’s ruling elite to further limit the already severely constrained freedom of speech.

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