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August 5, 2013 1:06 pm
BANGKOK – Police in Thailand are investigating four people for allegedly causing panic by posting rumours of a possible military coup on Facebook. One investigator threatened on Monday to charge anyone who even “liked” the postings on the social media site.
The move comes as Bangkok braces itself for political protests this week coinciding with a bill relating to a 2006 coup in the country. Opponents of the bill say it could pave the way for the return of the former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by the military in that takeover. His sister leads the present elected government.
The technology crime suppression division chief, Police Major General Pisit Paoin, said on Monday: “These four have posted false messages about the coup and other messages that could lead to chaos in the society.
“The postings’ content does not hold any truth and if the words kept spreading around, it could do damage to the country.” He said the police had issued summonses for the four individuals to meet investigators. If found guilty, they could face up to five years in prison and be fined 100,000 baht ($3,200).
Among those summoned are Sermsuk Kasitipradit, the political editor of public television channel TPBS, and a local pro-government protest leader.
The postings mentioned the possibility of a military coup and urged the public to hoard food and water.
“Those who ‘liked’ and ‘shared’ the posts will also face charges, so we would like to ask the public to contemplate very carefully about the way they use social media,” Maj Gen Pisit said.
More than 1,000 anti-government protesters joined a rally in Bangkok on Sunday ahead of the debate on the controversial bill on Wednesday.
Last week, the government invoked the Internal Security Act in three Bangkok districts, citing the possibility of violent protests. The act, which will stay in effect from August 1 – 10, authorises officials to seal off roads, take action against security threats, impose curfews and ban the use of electronic devices in designated areas. Peaceful rallies are allowed under the law.
Opponents of Yingluck Shinawatra’s government feared the bill, which would grant amnesty to people arrested for political activities since the 2006 military coup, could pave the way for the return of her brother Thaksin.
Thaksin was ousted in the 2006 coup and has been living in self-imposed exile.
The government’s special peacekeeping command under the Internal Security Act warned on Sunday against sharing any information that could lead to havoc in the nation.
Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha on Monday denied the coup rumours and urged the public to be careful in distinguishing the truth.
“Do not spread the rumours. Rumours are rumours. I want every group, every side, everyone, no matter which side you’re on, to be sensible . . . and be able to see what is true and what isn’t,” Gen Prayuth told reporters.
Thailand’s 2007 Computer Crime Act addresses hacking and other online offences, but also bars the circulation of material deemed detrimental to national security or that causes panic. It carries a penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 baht.
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