Wednesday 25 April 2018

Bid to slander Thai monarchy probed

Royalists gather to mark the 87th birthday of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej (AP)
Royalists gather to mark the 87th birthday of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej (AP)

Thai police have arrested six people suspected of conspiring to slander the country's monarchy on the internet.

Police said the six belong to a group called the Banpodj Network that allegedly spread anti-monarchy propaganda over social media.

A spokesman described the network as a serious threat to the monarchy and the nation's stability, saying it incited "chaos and hatred in society".

Recent social media postings by the Banpodj Network reflect a more general anti-establishment position rather than focusing on Thailand's royal family.

The military junta that seized power in a coup last May and its supporters come in for particular, often harshly worded, criticism.

Although strong anti-monarchy views seem limited to a tiny fringe of Thailand's population, the junta has prioritised protecting the monarchy's reputation and vigorously pursues those suspected of disloyalty to the crown.

Insulting the monarchy is punishable by three to 15 years' imprisonment under the world's harshest lese majeste law.

The police did not announce what charges would be filed, but one possibility is violating the 2007 Computer Crime Act, which has penalties of up to seven years in prison.

The prospect that instability will ensue when 87-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej ends his long reign is a matter of widespread concern in Thailand.

Many analysts link the country's past decade of sometimes-violent political conflict to a power struggle over who will lead the government through the royal succession.

Criticism such as that found in postings by the Banpodj suspects is common among supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and whose sister's government was ousted last year.

His supporters believe that royalists, jealous of Thaksin's electoral popularity, encouraged his overthrow.

Press Association

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