Govt alarmed by violence; pledges to ask embassies of foreign countries to extradite suspected critics
PRIME MINISTER Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday urged the public to be mindful about spreading information or pictures that might be deemed to violate lese majeste laws, which could break the law, hurt people’s feelings and deepen divisions.
The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), meanwhile, expressed concerns over the situation, instructing officials, especially the police, to pursue related cases with caution, and try to help to tone down heated incidents by preventing angry mobs from attacking people who have allegedly committed lese majeste.
“I ask you to not spread or share such content or photos,” Prayut said after the Cabinet meeting yesterday. “Because that will not only hurt Thai people’s feelings but also break laws.”
While such actions damaged national security and triggered social disharmony, Prayut said, the government did not want to strictly enforce laws at this period of time. Different opinions should be subject to compromise, he added.
“But once the law is broken, it is another story,” he said, apparently referring to lese majeste.
Justice Minister Paiboon Khumchaya said “social sanctions” might be better than strict legal enforcement when dealing with comments critical of the monarchy, apparently as an alternative to strict enforcement. The government earlier instructed governors and senior authorities nationwide to try to settle related cases through discussions.
NCPO spokesman Colonel Piyapong Klinphan said the junta, which previously had instructed officials to strictly enforce related laws, now was concerned about the situation and did not want to see people fight or use violence against each other.
Officers must work carefully, he said, suggesting that they should not bring suspects to apologise before portraits of the late King because that might expose them to attacks.
The move follows a diverse range of comments shared online after the King’s death, with many people showing great respect for the late King but some arousing anger over comments about the monarchy that have been perceived as critical or provocative.
The government has received reports of online lese majeste violations in southern provinces, including Phuket and Surat Thani, and asked provincial governors to “fix misunderstandings” among people with different views. The suspects were reported to have aroused the anger of residents who had gathered and threatened violence.
Actions deemed to constitute lese majeste were also being detected abroad, Paiboon said.
He added that he would submit letters to embassies in Bangkok again regarding anti-monarchy activists settled in other countries.
Paiboon said he hoped countries would understand the situation, but he acknowledged the chance was slim that governments would extradite anti-monarchy fugitives. Thai authorities would do their best to bring them to justice, he added.
Paiboon said the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) would follow up on cases against people posting defamatory comments on social network websites.
The current accused suspects, categorised into seven undisclosed groups, were the same people authorities had already issued arrest warrants for, he added.
Director-general of the DSI Pol Colonel Paisit Wongmuang said the department was gathering evidence on cases involving lese majeste and would forward cases to embassies of countries that were harbouring fugitives. The DSI was also monitoring websites, checking for defamatory comments and would work with relevant agencies to shut down or block offending webpages.
The National Security Council (NSC) was also following allegedly false information posted regarding the monarchy on social media websites.
NSC secretary-general General Taweep Netniyom said people insulting the revered institution were the same groups of people living overseas who remained hostile towards the country, but he believed most Thai people would not listen to them.
He encouraged people to report inappropriate comments to authorities and obtain information only from government agencies, the “most reliable sources”, he said.
Government Spokesman Lt-General Sansern Kaewkamnerd said officials were working to block websites containing defamatory content about the late King, but admitted it was difficult to block foreign websites.
He urged the domestic media to produce “constructive” stories in the meantime.