BANGKOK — The newly appointed chief of the Royal Thai Police has renewed an effort to locate and prosecute the fugitive transgender activist who routinely criticises the monarchy on social media.
Pol.Gen. Somyot Phumphanmuang said yesterday that he has instructed police officers to collect evidence about social media posts made by the activist, Saran Chuichai, aka Aum Neko, for legal prosecution.
Criticism of the monarchy (lese majeste) is punishable by up to 15 years in prison under Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Codes. Critics of the law say it discourages free speech in Thailand and is easily abused by political actors on all sides to smear opponents.
The Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has also been instructed to help determine the location of Ms. Saran, who has not been seen in public since the military staged the coup 22 May, said Pol.Gen. Somyot, a staunch royalist who was chosen to be the new Chief of the Royal Thai police by a selection committee last week.
"I have received information that Mr. Saran [sic] has left the country already," Pol.Gen. Somyot said. "So it's another reason that will further complicate our investigation."
The police chief also said the investigation will take "quite a lot of time."
While in hiding, Ms. Saran, 21, has continued to post comments on social media that sharply criticise the Thai Royal Family. The student activist – she is enrolled at Thammasat University – claims she has not left Thailand.
She is already facing a separate lese majeste charge filed by a TV talk show host in 2013. The host, Ponnipa Supatnukul, alleged that Ms. Saran "shocked" everyone in the studio by defaming the monarchy during a recorded panel discussion about students and the national economy.
Military junta leader and Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha has promised to "strictly" prosecute those who insult the monarchy.
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