BANGKOK (Reuters) - A Thai military court accepted a case on Tuesday against eight people charged with ridiculing junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha on Facebook, extending a crackdown against dissent after Thais voted earlier this month to accept a military-backed charter.
The outcome of the Aug. 7 referendum bolstered the credibility of the military government, say analysts, but the overwhelming vote in favor of the new constitution was unsurprising given the curbs on free speech ahead of the vote.
Campaigning for or against the constitution was banned, though major political parties and other groups, had criticized the charter. They said the charter enshrined the military’s influential role in Thailand and would constrict democracy even though it paves the way for an election by the end of 2017.
Angered by a Facebook page titled ‘We Love General Prayuth’, that parodied the junta leader, the military arrested the eight defendants in a series of raids on April 27 in the capital Bangkok and the northeastern province of Khon Kaen.
They were charged with sedition, an offence which carries a sentence of up to seven years in jail, and with violating a law covering computer crimes.
Winyat Chatmontree, a lawyer for the eight, said he has posted bail of 200,000 baht ($5,777.01) for each detainee, which the court approved.
“The military court accepted the case against the eight administrators of the ‘We Love General Prayuth’,” he said.
“The court approved bail. They will be temporarily released. Probably this evening,” said Winyat.
All eight deny the charges against them.
The junta clamped down on dissent after seizing power from an elected civilian government more than two years ago.
More than 900 people, including activists, journalists and politicians, have been summoned by the military for so-called ‘attitude adjustment’ sessions lasting anything between a few hours to one week, according to iLaw, a legal monitoring group.
Two of the suspects, Natthika Worathaiyawich and Harit Mahaton, face additional charges for posting commentary considered offensive to Thailand’s monarchy.
“I have said all along that I am not guilty and that I will fight this case,” Natthika told Reuters. “I am not worried.”
Reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore