THAILAND’s election commission on Wednesday filed charges against a group for posting “foul and strong” comments online criticising a military-backed draft constitution, the first case filed under a law that prohibits campaigning on the charter.
Groups on both sides of Thailand’s political divide have denounced the draft constitution as undemocratic.
The U.N. human rights chief last week urged the junta to curtail “dangerously sweeping” powers enshrined in the draft charter and urged the government to “actively encourage, rather than discourage” dialogue on the draft.[nL3N17P2YL]
Election commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn filed the charges against members of a Facebook group based in Thailand’s northeastern province of Khon Kaen.
“They posted comments on Facebook using foul and strong language,” Somchai told reporters after filing the charges. He did not disclose the group’s identity.
“We want them to be an example,” he said. “From now on, people should talk about the constitution using reason.”
Thailand’s king on Friday approved a law providing a 10-year jail term for those who campaign ahead of an Aug. 7 referendum on the military-backed constitution.
Endorsement of legislation by the king, who is a constitutional monarch, is a formality.
The new law criminalises “forcing or influencing” a voter to cast or not cast a vote.
The Aug. 7 referendum will be the first time Thais have headed to the polls since the military took power in a May 2014 coup.
In a separate case, ten people, eight from Bangkok and two from Khon Kaen, were detained by the military on Wednesday, junta spokesman Winthai Suvaree told Reuters.
They are suspected of violating the computer crimes law, he said. Winthai said the ten had not been detained over comments about the draft charter.
“They are suspected of breaking the Computer Crimes Act,” said Winthai. “We have no details on what they posted as yet.”
Opponents of the military regime, including the Puea Thai Party, have told supporters to vote against the draft charter.
Junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has said that if the charter is voted down the junta will choose from one the country’s previous charters, something that could further delay a general election planned for mid-2017.
Sunai Phasuk, senior researcher in Thailand for Human Rights Watch, told Reuters a “climate of fear” was growing in the country ahead of the referendum.
“The junta is mobilising state machinery and everything is being used to promote the draft constitution while people who oppose the draft are being targeted,” said Sunai.