Army files complaint against coup poster

Army files complaint against coup poster

Move comes after Prayut government announces tougher anti-fake news rules

Army chief Gen Narongpan Jittkaewtae, unhappy with coup rumours, files a complaint against a Facebook user on Saturday. (Bangkok Post file photo)
Army chief Gen Narongpan Jittkaewtae, unhappy with coup rumours, files a complaint against a Facebook user on Saturday. (Bangkok Post file photo)

The army chief has filed a complaint against a social media user who posted that a military coup was brewing, with plans to replace Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha with Gen Apirat Kongsompong as prime minister.

Gen Narongpan Jittkaewtae told Maj Gen Burin Thongprapai, director of the army’s Office of the Judge Advocate, to file the complaint with the Nang Lerng police against a Facebook user by the name of “Nathapong Akkara”.

Maj Gen Burin accused the person of importing false information into a computer system under the computer crime law. If found guilty, he or she could be punished by five years in prison and/or a fine up to 100,000 baht.

Anyone who shared this fake news, he said, would also be prosecuted.

According to the army — few people have seen the post — the Facebook user posted around noon on Friday that 300 troops from a special army unit from Lop Buri had detained Gen Prayut at his house in the compound of the First Infantry Regiment in Bangkok.

The post also claimed that Gen Narongpan was staging a coup — he had sent tanks of 48 battalions (34,000 troops) to seize Bangkok. The goal was to “shut down” the country for five years and appoint Gen Apirat, a former army chief and now vice-chamberlain of the Royal Household Bureau and deputy director of the Crown Property Bureau, as prime minister.

A source in the army said Gen Narongpan was very unhappy about the rumour because it might cause unrest and panic.

Besides, he had always maintained his view against coups, saying the chance of one happening under his watch was “zero”, according to the source.

Around midnight Friday, army spokesman Santipong Thampiya sent messages to Line groups of reporters, saying the Facebook post was fake news that had damaged the reputation of the army and the government.

Gen Prayut and his government have come under increasing pressure for their handling of the worsening Covid pandemic. They have responded by clamping down freedom of expression in the name of maintaining order.

On Wednesday, Gen Prayut issued an announcement under the emergency situation decree banning the propagation of information that might frighten people or reports containing distorted information. It instructed the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission to coordinate with internet service providers to block the IP address of an offender from accessing the internet and subsequently to take legal action against him or her.

A major difference between the computer crime law and the announcement is that the former penalises disseminators of fake news that may frighten people and follows due legal process. The latter leaves out the word “fake”, meaning that even truthful information deemed to cause panic is also prohibited.

The new order also allows officials to block a person’s access to the internet, seen as an infringement of civil rights, even before the court rules on his or her guilt.

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