Thai authorities forced the closure of 13 anti-government radio stations Tuesday in the biggest crackdown on dissident media since a state of emergency during street protests last year.
Thai E-News, a website associated with the anti-government Red Shirt movement, said stations based in Bangkok and its suburbs were raided by law enforcement.
Police spokesman Prawut Thawornsiri confirmed that the raids had been ordered but did not know how many stations had been closed. He said the stations had broadcast illegal statements defaming the monarchy. Insulting the monarchy is a serious crime in Thailand, though critics say the charge is often used to stifle legitimate dissent.
The raids come at a time of political tension, as there are fears the country's powerful military disagrees with the prime minister's plans to hold an election by early July. The army has held a series of high-profile maneuvers, with the top brass declaring their dedication to protecting the monarchy.
The military is said to fear the return to power of allies of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whom it deposed in a 2006 coup amid accusations that he was corrupt and had showed disrespect to constitutional monarch King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Officials of the Department of Special Investigation and policemen from the Crime Suppression Division seized transmitters and other equipment from the radio stations. Thai E-News said the operators were charged with possessing the transmitters without licenses.
The stations operated as so-called community radio stations, a system established to promote local public service radio, but which has been used to maintain political mouthpieces for various groups. The regulations guiding community radio are unclear and inconsistently enforced.
When last year's Red Shirt demonstrations seeking to topple Abhisit's government grew large and aggressive, one of the first moves taken by the government was to try to shut down their media network, including community radio stations.
A Red Shirt leader, Thida Thavornseth, told The Associated Press by phone that some stations prevented police from taking their transmitters.
"Some of the owners decided to take the transmitters away themselves," she said. "But they will have to suspend their broadcasts for a while anyway."
She said the main Red Shirt radio station was not the target of Tuesday's raids.
Thai officials have said there are about 7,000 small community radio stations across the country, all of them operating without proper permits, but the authorities have allowed some to operate on a temporary basis with certain broadcast limits.