BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai authorities have arrested and charged a man for posting “inappropriate content” online, cyber police said on Tuesday, as the man’s lawyer denied reports his client had criticized the royal family.
The arrest comes after a spate of rare criticism of the royal family when a hashtag about a royal motorcade holding up traffic in Bangkok became one of the top-trending subjects on Thai-language Twitter.
The suspect – identified as 25-year-old Karn Pongpraphapan by his lawyer – was not charged under Thailand’s strict lese majeste laws against insulting the monarchy, but was arrested under cybercrime laws involving national security.
Police referred only obliquely to the #royalmotorcade hashtag in announcing the arrest.
“Over the last week, bad actors have started inappropriate hashtags on social media, resulting in the arrested person posting inappropriate content on Facebook which stirred hatred,” said Siriwat Deepor, deputy chief of the police’s Technology Crime Suppression Division, without elaborating on what the content was about.
Police did not identify Karn but said the person they had arrested had violated a section in the Computer Crime Act which punishes anyone “uploading computer data that affects national security” for up to five years in prison.
Siriwat said the suspect was arrested at his home on Monday.
Thai law punishes insulting the monarchy with up to 15 years in prison, but no new lese majeste cases have been pursued since 2018.
Karn’s lawyer said his client posted historical comments about other countries’ royalty but said the post did not repeat the hashtag.
“The comments he posted on his Facebook did not mention Thailand’s monarchy nor the #royalmotorcade hashtag at all,” lawyer Winyat Chatmontree said.
“His post was about the history of Russia, France, and Germany. But the charge brought on by the digital economy ministry resulted from an interpretation and an effort to link him to the hashtag,” Winyat said.
Karn had joined an activist campaign calling for elections during a period of military rule that ended with a general election this year, Winyat said.
The arrest comes less than three months after Thailand’s new minister of digital economy, Puttipong Punnakanta, vowed to “purge” social media of royal insults shortly after taking office.
Puttipong also declined to directly link the arrest to the #royalmotorcade hashtag when asked by Reuters on Tuesday, but he said that the suspect’s actions were unacceptable.
“We are taking this seriously and this arrest should serve as an example to others, that they should think carefully because it can have criminal consequences,” Puttipong told reporters.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led a 2014 military coup, was elected to office in June after his party won elections in a campaign emphasizing traditional values including devotion to the monarchy and implying that opposition parties were disloyal.
Reporting by Bangkok bureau; Editing by Robert Birsel