Police acting on a complaint by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) have officially charged the leaders of the Future Forward Party with violating the Computer Crime Act, which could result in five-year prison terms.
Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and two other senior party members were charged by police with violating a section of the law that makes it a crime to transmit false information or information that damages the country's stability, Future Forward spokeswoman Pannika Wanich said Thursday.
All three had said they will report to police on Friday to hear the charges. But they now are expected to request a delay until at least mid-September.
Col Burin Thongprapai, chief legal officer (Judge Advocate General) for the junta, stated last month that he filed the charges because in the Facebook live broadcast Thanathorn had made accusations against the junta and twisted facts in a manner that amounted to an attack on Thailand's justice system.
Ms Pannika said Thursday the charges involve a June 29 Facebook live video posted on the pages of Mr Thanathorn and the party, but did not describe how it may have violated the law.
She said police had issued summonses in the past few days for the three party members to turn themselves in on Friday, but they had busy schedules and would ask for the date to be postponed to the middle of next month.
"And since all three have now officially become defendants in the case, our legal team needs some time to prepare," she said.
It is believed the exact charges will involve statements and a debate over charges that the regime is poaching prominent politicians and ex-members of parliament in the North and Northeast.
Col Burin told reporters in June that the "false information" in the Facebook broadcast had harmed the image of the military regime.
The move by the junta to charge the Future Forward executives will be controversial. Much of the public seems them as "young Turks" challenging both the military regime and the mainstream political parties.
Bringing Future Forward leaders to court risks kickstarting a surge of support to a party already seen as offering a real alternative to the ruling junta and its allies in upcoming elections.
The regime has kept a tight lid on dissent since it seized power from an elected government in a 2014 coup, partly by extensive use of the lese majeste, sedition and computer laws. It still refuses to set an election date, but Future Forward is considered as a serious opposition movement to any attempts by Gen Prayut and the military to cling to power after an election.
The junta's leader, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, said Tuesday that the next polls are still scheduled for Feb 24, but refused to rule out another delay.
- Earlier report: Future Forward leaders ordered to report to police