BANGKOK — The military government has responded to episodes of retribution and mob violence by walking a fine line between condemning both those who speak ill of the monarchy and take justice into their own hands.
A week after the death of His Majesty the Late King, at least six cases of vigilantism against those suspected of defaming the monarchy have been reported. When the military government found its voice, it made clear that it didn’t support vigilantism while at the same time is expanding its own considerable efforts to track down such cases for prosecution.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha urged the public not to provoke conflict or engage in vigilantism, according to government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd. They should instead inform the authorities when they find or see something inappropriate to proceed under the law, Sansern said.
Deputy junta chairman Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan also spoke out in rejection of street justice.
“It is not the duty of the people, but the authorities to prosecute it in accordance to the law,” Prawit said.
Their words came after a series of several vigilante attacks occurred nationwide, starting Friday night with a mob in Phuket demanding the arrest of a Facebooker who allegedly defamed the Late King.
They also confirmed the government’s position after another junta member, Justice Minister Paiboon Kumchaya, seemed to endorse the lawlessness.
“The incident in Phuket was the feeling of Thais that they could not bear it,” Gen. Paiboon said Tuesday. “I have said it. There is no better way than social sanction.”
As his comments were criticized almost immediately, Paiboon on Wednesday sought to clarify that while he believes society should punish aberrant behavior, he did not support “mob rule” or any criminality.
“Law enforcement alone cannot change people’s attitudes,” Paiboon said of what he called “social sanctions” “Can you be sure that people will change their attitudes if you put them in the jail? This is about their understanding.”
Paiboon said his ministry had submitted letters to the ambassadors of seven countries where 19 alleged royal defamation suspects are living in exile. The letters, which included their addresses, requested the foreign governments at least help censure them.
In the past seven days since the death of King Bhumibol, police have identified 12 suspects to be charged with lese majeste under Article 112 of the Penal Code. National Police Chief Gen. Chakthip Chaijinda said Wednesday two had been arrested but did not provide further details about the cases.
In addition to law enforcement, other government agencies have been tasked with looking for violations of Article 112, including the Department of Special Investigation and the newly established Ministry of Digital Economy and Society.
Since the ministry set up a 24 hour website monitoring center Friday, approximately 60 defaming websites have been tracked, according to Deputy Prime Minister Prajin Juntong, who said 35 percent of which had been successfully shut down.
Under the authority of junta order No. 26, the government can shut down any website deemed to instigate unrest or provoke people to oppose the regime without seeking a court order.
In cases which do not requires a court order, Prajin said, “we are trying to make it faster” than the usual 15 days.