While pressure has been mounting against PM Prayut Chan-o-cha, a Facebook user posted a false claim that an army had captured the Prime Minister and is staging a coup and is now facing charges. The story was posted midday yesterday and seemed to detail a coup attempt, alleging that 300 military members from Lop Buri were already holding PM Prayut at his residence in the First Infantry Regiment in Bangkok.
The social media agitator went further, naming General Apirat Kongsompong (the former Thai Army chief) as the coup leader intending to become the new prime minister of Thailand.
The director of the army's Office of the Judge Advocate did not take kindly to the bold false coup claim and filed a complaint with Nang Lerng police against the Facebook user under Thailand's harsh computer crime laws. The crime of importing false information into a computer system carries a sentence of up to 5 years in prison and fines of up to 100,000 baht.
The offending post was apparently not popular and had not gone viral or received widespread dissemination according to the army, but swift and strong action needed to be taken to prevent this story from somehow getting the attention of larger accounts or media outlets who might cover the story.
And army spokesperson contacted reporters to call the Facebook post about the coup fake news and explain that it was damaging to the reputation of the government and the army. The government plans to prosecute anyone who shares the fake story as well. Gen Apirat was said to be angry at the false report for possibly causing panic and unrest. He has been anti-coup and says the rumour claiming that the country would be shut down for 5 years and placed under his leadership has zero chance of happening.
The fake news Facebook post came just one day after PM Prayut announced controversial restrictive rules against freedom of expression. The decree moves the bar of punishable speech from reporting fake news like the Facebook user's coup story to the banning of sharing information that may frighten or panic people, seemingly regardless of truth, though a statement today from government officials said that criticism is still allowed if it's fact-based. Those who violate the strict new rule could have their internet service blocked and face prosecution.
So, just to be clear: PM Prayut has not been taken into custody and a military coup is not currently underway.
SOURCE: Bangkok Post
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