ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong
Updated: April 19, 2017 05:46 AM GMT
Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has threatened to take legal action against anyone mocking him on social media. (Photo by Wally Santana/AFP)
Thailand's military junta is targeting a range of peaceful critics for prosecution prior to the third anniversary of the military coup, Human Rights Watch said April 18.
Charges were recently brought against Veera Somkwamkid, 59, a prominent anti-corruption activist, for mocking Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Facebook.
The ruling National Council for Peace and Order has frequently harassed and prosecuted peaceful critics, including those who have poked fun of the junta, since taking power in a May 2014 coup, Human Rights Watch said.
"The junta can't even take some mockery on Facebook without throwing someone in jail," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
"This intolerance of political criticism and dissenting opinions is an embrace of dictatorial rule, not a transition to democracy."
An arrest warrant was filed against Veera on March 9, under the Computer-Related Crime Act. The charges against him relate to a satirical questionnaire on his Facebook page asking which of the promises in the junta's theme song Returning Happiness to Thailand, composed by Prayut, had been fulfilled. Most of the 123 participants who answered Veera's questions responded that "None" of the junta's pledges had been met.
The Police Technology Crime Suppression Division accused Veera of misleading the public by reporting false information.
Last April, Prayut said that he ordered officials to take legal action against anyone mocking him on social media: "I will prosecute them all. They can't make fun of me," he said.
Soon after, on April 27, 2016, Thai authorities arrested eight people for being involved in the making and dissemination of commentary on the parody Facebook page "We Love General Prayut." They have been charged with sedition under article 116 of the Penal Code.