Thai Facebook group charged for "foul language" about draft constitution

By Reuters/Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Panarat Thepgumpanat   April 27, 2016 | 03:42 pm GMT+7
Thai Facebook group charged for "foul language" about draft constitution
Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha gestures as he arrives at a weekly cabinet meeting at Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, April 26, 2016. : REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Thailand's election commission on Wednesday filed charges against a group for posting "foul and strong" comments online criticising a military-backed draft constitution, the first case filed under a law that prohibits campaigning on the charter.

Groups on both sides of Thailand's political divide have denounced the draft constitution as undemocratic.

The U.N. human rights chief last week urged the junta to curtail "dangerously sweeping" powers enshrined in the draft charter and urged the government to "actively encourage, rather than discourage" dialogue on the draft.

Election commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn filed the charges against members of a Facebook group based in Thailand's northeastern province of Khon Kaen.

"They posted comments on Facebook using foul and strong language," Somchai told reporters after filing the charges. He did not disclose the group's identity.

"We want them to be an example," he said. "From now on, people should talk about the constitution using reason."

Thailand's king on Friday approved a law providing a 10-year jail term for those who campaign ahead of an Aug. 7 referendum on the military-backed constitution.

Endorsement of legislation by the king, who is a constitutional monarch, is a formality.

The new law criminalises "forcing or influencing" a voter to cast or not cast a vote.

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Somchai Srisuthiyakorn (C) Election commissioner holds up a document during filing the charges against members of a Facebook group based in Thailand's northeastern province of Khon Kaen at a police station in Bangkok, Thailand, April 27, 2016. Dailynews/Handout via REUTERS 

The Aug. 7 referendum will be the first time Thais head to the polls since the military took power in a May 2014 coup.

Opponents of the military regime, including the Puea Thai Party, have told supporters to vote against the draft charter.

Junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has said that if the charter is voted down the junta will choose from one the country's previous charters, something that could further delay a general election planned for mid-2017.