Prayut backs detention of online critics
16 protesters rounded up at Victory Monument
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has expressed his support for authorities involved in the detention of 10 people over politically provocative online posts.
He was speaking after the regime rounded up group members in Bangkok and Khon Kaen for allegedly breaching the computer crime law through their criticism of the regime and prime minister.
Another 16 people were taken away by authorities Wednesday evening from Victory Monument, where they staged a protest against the detention of the 10 netizens. The protest was organised by the New Democracy Group and the Resistant Citizen Group.
"Did they commit a wrongdoing? If they did, they must all be arrested," Gen Prayut said, responding to the regime's detention of the netizens.
"Police and the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology will look into the matter and the court will decide whether they are guilty."
Responding to concerns that the country would be pressured by the international community over human rights violations due to the arrests, Gen Prayut said people should not mix the human rights issue with law enforcement.
"If you do not break the law, nothing can be done to you," Gen Prayut said.
He also urged members of the public to comply with the referendum law, adding that the Election Commission (EC) has the authority to ensure the law is upheld.
While in Chiang Mai, the prime minister lit into provincial governor Pawin Chamniprasat and local administrators for - his words - loyalty to "the old boss", meaning Thaksin Shinawatra.
"The politicians' time is over and they had better step away," Gen Prayut told Mr Pawin.
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Of the 10 people detained by soldiers, eight were put in custody at the 11th Military Circle in Bangkok's Dusit district and the rest at the 23rd Military Circle in Khon Kaen, said Col Winthai Suwaree, spokesman for the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).
Officers had been keeping tabs on their social media activities and are confident in proceeding with legal action against them, he said.
The detentions were carried out under powers underlined in Section 44 of the interim charter. Inquiries will be conducted by the NCPO, the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) and the Department of Special Investigation (DSI).
"The 10 detainees have common behaviours in violating the law. However, charges have not been laid against them as further investigation is needed," he said.
Officers are probing whether they have violated the Referendum Act, he said.
"I emphasise that officers are working in line with the law," Col Winthai said, insisting all suspects are still in military custody and no one has disappeared. "There is nothing to be worried about."
He refused to reveal the names of the 10 detainees.
However, two of the detainees in Khon Kaen were identified as Harit Mahaton, 25, and Nithi Kooltasnasilp, 26.
Mr Harit runs a ramen shop in Muang Khon Kaen district and a chicken rice shop in Laos. He used to work as a reporter for Matichon newspaper. Mr Nithi manages the ramen shop.
Col Somchai Kanpachai, deputy commander of the 23rd Military Circle, said soldiers brought the pair in for talks since they were found to have criticised the government and NCPO via their online posts, which were deemed to have breached the Computer Crime Act.
The two are linked to the New Democracy Group and the Resistant Citizen Group, Col Somchai said.
The Southeast Asia director of Amnesty International, Josef Benedict, demanded that the government "immediately release" those detained, unconditionally.
"If ordinary people cannot comment on a Facebook post without facing the threat of 10 years behind bars and a hefty fine, what hope is there for any open and honest debate on the military government’s draft constitution?" asked the AI representative.
Meanwhile, red-shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan said his Facebook page managers -- Noppaklao Kongsuwan and Vararat Mengpramool -- were among the 10 detainees.
The two were taken from their homes without being informed of charges against them and kept in an undisclosed location, he said, urging the regime to release them immediately.
Meanwhile, the EC has lodged a police complaint against a Khon Kaen woman it accuses of breaking the Referendum Act, the first case since the legislation came into effect on Friday.
The offending comments were found on Facebook on Tuesday and recorded by authorities. The posts were later taken down, EC member Somchai Srisuthiyakorn said.
Police later apprehended a 59-year-old woman, Jirapan Tanmanee, who allegedly confessed to posting the online messages.