Thai police arrest suspected anti-monarchy ringleader
BANGKOK (AP) — Thai police said Wednesday they have arrested a man accused of masterminding a conspiracy to slander the country’s monarchy on the Internet, in the latest move by the military-installed government to protect the palace’s reputation.
Police told a news conference that Hassadin Uraipraiwan, also known as “Banpodj,” will face lese majeste charges, a crime of defaming the monarch that is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. He is accused of having released audio clips online that contained anti-monarchy content.
Police said Hassadin, who also faces charges of violating Thailand’s Computer Crime Act, used a voice distortion program and uploaded the voice clips to servers in the U.S. That offense has penalties of up to seven years in prison.
He was arrested Monday night at a Bangkok hotel, one week after police apprehended six people allegedly from the same network. In a statement last week police described the network as a serious threat to the monarchy and the nation’s stability, saying it incited “chaos and hatred in society.”
“This network is the most active anti-monarchy group, more than any other group, and has a large following,” police Col. Siripong Timula, who heads the Technology Crime Suppression Division, told reporters Wednesday. “We will keep investigating to see if there are more people behind it.”
Recent social media postings by the so-called Banpodj Network reflect a more general anti-establishment position rather than focusing on Thailand’s royal family. The military junta that seized power in a coup last May and its supporters have faced harshly worded criticism on social media.
Although strong anti-monarchy views seem limited to a tiny fringe of Thailand’s population, the junta has prioritized protecting the monarchy’s reputation and vigorously pursues those suspected of disloyalty to the crown.
The crackdown comes amid widespread concerns of instability when ailing 87-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej ends his long reign.
Many analysts link the country’s past decade of sometimes-violent political conflict to a power struggle over who will lead the government through the royal succession.