Just over a month before Thailand‘s long-delayed elections, police say they are seeking the prosecution of the leader of a new political party for allegedly spreading “false information” about the military government in a speech posted on Facebook last year.
The legal action against Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, 40, and two senior colleagues in the Future Forward Party, which has attracted the support of young voters, will add to concerns that the military is determined to retain a hold over politics, even after the return of civilian rule in the March 24 vote.
“We will send both the case for prosecution and the suspects to the attorney general,” Police Lieutenant Colonel Krit Seneewong Na Ayutthaya, an investigator on the case from the police cybercrime division, told Reuters news agency.
Thanathorn, a car-parts billionaire and newcomer to the political scene, and his two colleagues could be hit with hefty fines and jailed for five years under the Computer Crime Act.
Krit said the case would be referred next week to state prosecutors, who will decide whether to take it to court.
The Future Forward Party has denied the charge, saying the points made in the June speech were public information – the trio had alleged that the military government was recruiting members of major political parties to join new parties set up in support of it.
“It’s obvious that as the election approaches, the case is being rushed ahead … We’re ready to face whatever challenge comes our way,” Thanathorn told reporters at a campaign rally in the capital, Bangkok, on Wednesday.
Hundreds of young people, many of them students, turned out for the rally. Most took pictures and videos of Thanathorn and some queued up to take selfies with him. The hashtag “#SaveThanathorn” was trending on Thai Twitter.
Government critics consider the Computer Crimes Act draconian for its denial of freedom of speech online.
“The use of the Computer Crimes Act is used with the objective to silence us, threaten us, to make politics of fear happen in this country,” Thanathorn had told reporters in September
Next month’s general election is the first since a 2014 military coup.
While the vote is being highly anticipated by political parties and voters, some are concerned that a new constitution, drafted under military supervision, will ensure that the generals will retain a significant role in politics.
Thanathorn launched his party last year, promoting it as an alternative to the country’s polarised politics, which has for years pitted loyalists of overthrown ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra against establishment parties supporting the military-royalist elite.
Thanathorn has been critical of military rule, recently pledging to prosecute coup-makers and amend the new constitution.