Thai Activists Urge Release of Man Detained Over Facebook Post

By Aukkarapon Niyomyat & Amy Sawitta Lefevre 15 December 2015

BANGKOK — Thai activists demanded on Monday the release of a man arrested for sharing an infographic on Facebook detailing alleged graft in an army-built park, saying plainclothes security officers had taken him by force.

Since taking power in a military coup in May 2014, Thailand’s ruling junta has issued directives that have largely stifled dissent, including barring political discussions and debate.

On Sunday, a 25-year-old student, Thanet Anantawong, was taken from a hospital while he awaited an operation, said prominent anti-junta activist, Siriwat Serithiwat.

“Plainclothes security officers went to a hospital where Thanet was staying,” Siriwat told reporters outside a criminal court in the capital. “I would like the court to release Thanet. He needs medical attention. We are afraid for his life.”

Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday Thai authorities should give Thanet immediate medical treatment.

“Thailand’s junta has reached a new level of ruthlessness by snatching an activist from his hospital bed, putting him in military detention, and depriving him of needed medical treatment,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

A junta spokesman declined to comment on the arrest of Thanet, who is being held at Bangkok’s 11th Army Circle military base.

Thanet was among a group of activists who tried to visit the park, which is at the center of a corruption scandal that threatens to embroil the military government.

Soldiers and police intercepted them at a train station, and detained some for several hours before their release.

Rajabakti Park, built in the seaside resort town of Hua Hin south of Bangkok and dedicated to the monarchy, has been at the center of allegations of corruption and misspent funds.

A military probe into its finances found no corruption, but graft accusations persist among opposition groups and the media.

Thanet faces charges under Article 116 of Thailand’s criminal code—the equivalent of sedition—as well as under the wide-ranging Computer Crimes Act, for allegedly re-posting a diagram on Facebook linking junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha and other officials to alleged corruption involving the park.

A second man, Thanakorn Siripaiboon, 27, was arrested on Dec. 8 for sharing posts about government corruption and hitting the “like” button on a post with an image deemed insulting to Thailand’s king, Human Rights Watch said on Saturday.

He is being held at Bangkok’s high-security Klong Prem Central prison, police said.

The US State Department said it was aware of the reports and was “concerned by continued limitations on human rights and fundamental freedoms in Thailand, including undue restrictions on freedom of expression and the detention of individuals without charge.”

Thailand is a long-time treaty ally of the United States but relations have cooled since the coup and concerns have grown in Washington about the junta’s use of royal defamation, or “lese-majeste” laws, which are among the world’s harshest.

Last week Thai police said they had launched an inquiry into US Ambassador to Thailand Glyn Davies after he criticized “lengthy and unprecedented” jail sentences for those found guilty of lese-majeste.

Those accused of lese-majeste are tried in military courts, which have handed down record sentences.

A military court refused Thanakorn bail, said his lawyer, Anon Nampa.

“They said his crimes are punishable by many years in prison and they are afraid he will offend again if released,” he said.