Thai police warned online critics of the military junta Friday that they will "come get you" for posting political views that could incite divisiveness, the latest reminder about surveillance of social media in post-coup Thailand.
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The Technology Crime Suppression Division, a police unit that is working with the army, cited Thursday's capture of a leading organizer of anti-coup protests as a lesson to everyone in the country using social media.
Police tracked Sombat Boonngam-anong's IP address to learn where he was after he made several Facebook postings calling for protests against the May 22 coup, said police Maj. Gen. Pisit Paoin, who handled the arrest.
"I want to tell any offenders on social media that police will come get you," Pisit told The Associated Press. "Any expressions of political views online must be done in a way that will neither incite divisiveness or violence."
The military government, which has warned that it is closely monitoring online activities, has blocked hundreds of websites and plans to expand its surveillance capabilities. But Sombat's arrest was likely to spread new fear through Thailand's active online community.
Sombat, a prominent social activist, had spearheaded an online campaign calling for people to silently show opposition to the coup by raising a three-finger salute in public places — borrowing a symbol of resistance to oppression from Hollywood's "The Hunger Games."
'Catch me if you can'
In a bow to the publicity generated by the gesture, coup leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha devoted a few words to it in his almost hour-long televised speech setting out his regime's intentions.
"There have been gestures of holding three fingers in protest — that is fine. I have no conflict with you," he said. "But how about if we all raise five fingers instead — two for the country and the other three to signify religion, monarchy and the people."
He said raising three fingers amounted to copying foreign films, and suggested, "We should be proud of our own identity."
'I want to tell any offenders on social media that police will come get you.' - Police Maj. Gen. Pisit Paoin
While his speech covered general intents and policies, particularly covering the economy, it also mentioned morality, a touchstone of conservatives Thais who have backed the last two coups.
"People started to lose trust and faith in the whole system," he said, in explaining one basis for the army's takeover. "Laws were not being respected. We were thus becoming an immoral society. A society without morality, without virtue, without good governance, could not move forward."
The social activist, Sombat, was one of several hundred people — including politicians, academics, activists and journalists — summoned by the military following the coup. Sombat defied the order to turn himself in and taunted authorities with postings such as "Catch me if you can."
"He's a smart guy and also clever," Pisit said. "But he said `Catch me if you can.' Now we are showing him: `We can catch you."'
Sombat was arrested Thursday night in a house in Chonburi province, about two hours east of Bangkok. He announced the capture on his Facebook account, saying simply, "I've been arrested."
Pisit said Sombat was in military custody and under martial law could face two years in prison for defying the junta's order to turn himself in. He said Sombat would be tried in a military court.
Former PM's assets investigated
Meanwhile, a military court Friday freed on bail ousted Education Minister Chaturon Chaisang, another prominent figure who had defied an order to turn himself in and was then captured. His lawyer said Chaturon posted 400,000 baht (about $13,400 Cdn) bond and was told not to "incite unrest" or leave the country.
Chaturon was arrested in Bangkok on May 27 when he emerged from hiding to hold a surprise news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand. His lawyer Narinpong Jinapak said he faces possible charges of defying the junta's order to report to it and causing incitement by holding a news conference, which could carry a combined prison term of nine years.
Several dozen people have defied orders to turn themselves in, and some are known to have fled to neighbouring countries. The junta has declared that those who don't surrender themselves may be subject to a two-year jail term.
The military moved against another of its top targets Thursday and launched a probe into the finances of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whose government was tossed from power in the coup.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission said it would investigate the assets of Yingluck and four members of her Cabinet involved in a controversial rice subsidy program.
Yingluck was forced from office herself by a court ruling earlier in May that she had abused her authority in approving the transfer of a high-level civil servant.
Coup leaders in Thailand usually seek to publicize alleged corruption by the governments they overthrew as a way of discrediting them and justifying their own takeovers. Yingluck's brother Thaksin Shinawatra faced similar treatment after a 2006 coup ousted him from the prime minister's job. He is in self-imposed exile to escape a jail term for a conflict of interest conviction.
The commission is known for having made several significant rulings against Yingluck and her government, which her supporters suspect was part of a conspiracy to oust her from office.