BANGKOK (AP) — Thai police have arrested six people accused of being part of a conspiracy to slander the country's monarchy on the Internet, in the latest move by the military-installed government limiting freedom of expression.
Police said the six belong to a group called the Banpodj Network that allegedly spread anti-monarchy propaganda over social media. A police statement on Tuesday 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 prioritized 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 found in postings by the Banpodj suspects is common among supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by 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.