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Thai police threaten junta’s online critics

AP

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.

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 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 said. “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 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 “The Hunger Games.”

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 hourlong 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.”

While his speech covered general intents and policies, particularly covering the economy, it also mentioned morality, a touchstone of conservative Thais who have backed the past 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.”

Sombat was one of several hundred people — including politicians, academics 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.”