8 Facebook users indicted for mocking Thailand's PM

Eight people charged with ridiculing junta leader Prayut Chan-ocha arriving at the military court in Bangkok, Thailand, on Aug 23, 2016.
Eight people charged with ridiculing junta leader Prayut Chan-ocha arriving at the military court in Bangkok, Thailand, on Aug 23, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK (AFP) - A Thai military tribunal on Tuesday (Aug 23) indicted eight people with sedition for running a Facebook page that mocked the kingdom's prime minister and junta chief, making them the latest victims of the regime's crackdown on dissent.

The eight Facebook users were arrested in April by military raids in Bangkok and northeast Khon Kaen province, according to Human Rights Watch.

They now face up to seven years in prison for running a page that featured memes and doctored photos of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha - the former army chief who seized power two years ago.

"The court indicts all eight and will later call them in for a plea," the group's lawyer Winyat Chartmontree told AFP.

They have been charged with sedition and violating the kingdom's computer crime act, two broadly-worded laws that are routinely used to silence critics.

Thailand's generals have clamped down on politics and severely curbed free expression since their 2014 power grab, jailing scores of critics of the government and monarchy - often for comments posted on social media.

The number of computer crime, sedition and royal defamation charges have all shot up since the junta seized power in a May 2014 coup.

Some have seen jail sentences as long as 30 years for Facebook posts deemed insulting of the monarchy.

The government has defended its clampdown on free speech as an effort to heal political conflict that has ripped Thailand in two.

But critics say the junta is chiefly bent on crippling the political network loyal to the ousted government, a faction led by former premiers and siblings Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra.

The family is adored by rural supporters in Thailand's north-east but loathed by a military-allied elite based in Bangkok.

They have won every poll in the past decade but seen two of their governments knocked down by military coups since 2006.

Each Friday, General Prayut delivers a nationally televised speech titled "Returning Happiness to the People".

In his speech last week, he touched on his dislike for social media.

"I have never used any online media or any social media platform to communicate with the public," he said.

"I prefer to only meet people face to face through official channels."