Thai journalist charged with sedition for online comments

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BANGKOK (AP) — A prominent journalist in Thailand was charged Tuesday with sedition and violation of the country's computer law for online postings concerning politics.

A lawyer for the legal aid group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said Pravit Rojanaphruk acknowledged the charges at the police department's Technology Crime Suppression Division. Pravit is very active on social media and outspoken in his criticism of Thailand's military rulers, who took power after a coup in 2014 that overthrew an elected civilian government.

Thailand's ruling junta has tried to clamp down on dissent, targeting social media in particular. It has also imposed measures such as banning political assemblies and the temporarily detaining of its critics for "attitude adjustment" sessions at military bases.

The lawyer, Poomsuk Poomsukcharoen, said two counts of sedition against Pravit were for Facebook postings from February last year. Police said Pravit would be called back on Aug. 18 to hear more details of the charges.

Pravit is a senior staff writer at Khaosod English, a website of a Thai newspaper. Police announced last week that they would bring sedition charges against him and two politicians, one a former energy minister. Sedition is punishable by up to seven years' imprisonment.

A report issued Tuesday by the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights says at least 69 people in 23 cases have been persecuted under the current military government, formally known as the National Council for Peace and Order — NCPO — noting that the law was rarely used before.

"After the 2014 coup, this law became one of the primary tools used by state officials to suppress the political expression of the people. The meaning of sedition was expanded to include peaceful public expression of criticism of the NCPO, political campaigns, opposition to unjust laws, and protesting and opposing the state on other matters," said the lawyers group.

"Nearly all of the accusations are related to peaceful political expression or expression of opinion. Some cases involve the ridicule of those who hold power. None of the cases include instigation to cause violence," the report notes.

Other political prosecutions tallied by the group include at least 242 people in 37 cases prosecuted for political assembly, and 138 people in 93 cases for lese majeste, defaming, insulting or threatening the king, queen, heir-apparent or regent.

Rights groups such as the Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ, have urged Thai authorities to drop criminal proceedings against Pravit.

"Thai authorities should stop threatening Pravit Rojanaphruk for his writing," CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Steven Butler said from Washington, D.C. "The threat to charge a critical journalist with sedition charges for his Facebook posts shows just how badly press freedom has deteriorated in Thailand under military rule."

Pravit often comments on Thai politics on social media. He left a previous job at one of Thailand's daily English newspapers after his writing put the newspaper under pressure by authorities, he said. He has been detained by the junta on two separate occasions for "attitude adjustment" sessions.

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