By Wilawan Watcharasakwet
Thai police filed criminal charges Friday against a Cambodian man who allegedly posted a false report about the Thai prime minister on his website, officials said.
Ratanak Heng, 21, was arrested on Thursday in Phnom Penh by Cambodian police at the request of the Thai government, Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakpal of Thailand’s Tourist Police told reporters.
Surachate said he took Ratanak under his custody before flying him to Thailand the same day.
The Royal Thai Police’s Technology Crime Suppression Division charged Ratanak with violating the country’s strict computer crime law after he allegedly uploaded on May 23 while in Cambodia a Thai-language post saying that Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha had lambasted Thais who complained about a recent hike in fuel prices.
Prayuth told Thai motorists to refuel their cars with water instead, according to the blog post.
Prayuth made no such comment, a Thai government spokesman said, and authorities ordered a quick investigation. Thai police said the false information might undermine the country’s national security.
“I apologize for causing this,” Ratanak told reporters as he arrived at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport on Thursday. He acknowledged that the blog was his but said another person who had used it “caused this damage.”
If convicted, Ratanak will face imprisonment of up to five years or a fine of 100,000 baht (U.S. $3,175) or both.
He was released on bail after a Cambodian diplomat issued a verbal guarantee that he would show up during the police probe, authorities said.
“Ratanak denied that he posted the fake story about Thai premier because he can’t read and speak Thai,” Col. Siriwat Deepor, a police inspector, told BenarNews. Instead, the Cambodian blamed his business partner for the erroneous report, Siriwat said.
Six Thais have also been charged with knowingly propagating false and harmful digital information. They confessed to sharing the story but claimed they had no ill intent, police said.
“We will seriously enforce the rule of law,” Surachate said. “This action shouldn’t happen ever again because this confused people and affected national security.”
Prayuth took power on May 22, 2014 after leading a coup that toppled the government of Yingluck Shinawatra. Since then, the military junta has detained political leaders and imposed an array of laws aimed at gagging dissent, rights activists said.
Concerns about how Thai and Cambodian leaders treat those who disagree with them “are far from new and are far more complex than often presented,” according to a recent article in The Diplomat, a Washington-based magazine on international affairs.
“But those concerns have intensified over the past few years, with fears about an authoritarian alliance of sorts emerging between the ruling junta in Thailand led by Prayuth Chan-o-cha and the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) led by Hun Sen as they seek to suppress dissent and consolidate their authority at home,” the magazine said.
As of March, the Thai junta had prosecuted at least 94 people on charges of violating strict laws against Lese-Majeste, under which offenders can be sentenced to up to 15 years for sharing a story on Facebook and other offenses, according to iLaw, a legal education advocacy group.
In addition, iLaw said, at least 75 people have been charged with sedition.