A prominent Thai activist who organised protests against last month's coup could face up to 14 years in jail after being charged on Thursday with inciting unrest, violating cyber laws and defying the junta's orders.
Sombat Boonngamonanong spearheaded an online campaign promoting flash mob rallies against the military takeover, via a Facebook page bearing the message “Catch Me if You Can”. He has denied all charges.
He was among more than 300 activists, politicians and journalists detained since the military seized power on May 22. Many have been held at undisclosed locations.
“He is charged with instigating unrest through Facebook, which is a violation of the Computer Crimes Act,” said Prasopchoke Prommul, deputy commander of the police's crime suppression division.
“Another charge is not reporting himself to the military.”
Under martial law, gatherings of more than five people are banned and violators have been swiftly arrested by uniformed and plain-clothes police.
Thailand protests: Thai army declares martial law
Thailand protests: Thai army declares martial law
A Thai soldier stands in front of a portrait of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej as he patrols near government buildings in Bangkok
A pro-government protester points at a soldier during a cleanup at a pro-government demonstration site on the outskirts of Bangkok
Thai soldiers patrol near government buildings in Bangkok
A soldier walks past barefoot Buddhist monks begging for alms outside a temple near Government House in Bangkok
Thai police and army soldiers stand guard outside a military compound before former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra arrives to report to Thailand's ruling military in Bangkok
Thai soldiers stand guard at a roadblock outside the Defence Ministry building (background) after Thailand's army chief announced that the armed forces were seizing power in Bangkok
Thai soldiers patrol after army chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha met with anti-government and pro-government leaders at the Army Club in Bangkok
Thai police and military display a haul of weapons seized during recent raids since the imposition of martial law, at a press conference at the Army Club in Bangkok
Thai soldiers stand next to the portrait of King Bhumibol Adulyadej after the declaration of martial law at the Army Club in Bangkok. Thai Army Chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, declared martial law giving the military full control to prevent further protest-related violence in the country
Anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban (R) gives a traditional greeting to a soldier before leaving Government House in Bangkok. Thailand's army chief said rival political groups should talk to each other and that the martial law imposed would last until peace and order had been restored
A Thai soldier stands outside the Government Public Relations Department in Bangkok
Thai soldiers man a checkpoint near pro-government "red shirt" supporters encampment in suburbs of Bangkok
(L-R) Thai Police Chief Adul Saengsingkaew, Navy Chief Adm Narong Pipattanasai, Army Chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha and Air Chief Marshall Prachin Chantong during a meeting at the Army Club in Bangkok. Thailand has been wracked by six months of non-stop protests seeking to topple the government. At least 25 people have died in political-related violence and more than 700 injured
Motorists on their way as Thai soldiers take to the streets with a heavy machine gun on a Humvee military vehicle at a main road outside the Royal Thai Police Sports Club in Bangkok
Outside police headquarters in Bangkok
An anti-government protester waves a Thai national flag during a rally outside the Government House in Bangkok. Thailand's Senate said it was ready to choose an interim prime minister to end a political deadlock but stopped short of throwing out a beleaguered caretaker government and risking a violent backlash by its supporters
Thai anti-government protesters shout slogans during a rally in front of the Parliament as senators debate to find and end to the country's political conflict in Bangkok. Thousands of anti-government protesters rallied the area surrounding parliament and Government House to pressure the Senate to appoint an interim government to institute political reforms before new elections while key Thai institutions are resisting the opposition's demands
Thai anti-government protesters gather in front of the Parliament in Bangkok
Thai riot policemen stand guard during an anti-government protest rally at the Air Force auditorium in Bangkok. Thailand's Election Commission called for the postponement of key parliamentary polls due to be held on 20 July 2014 because of political unrest shaking the kingdom
Anti-government protesters leave an air force base after breaking into its grounds in Bangkok. Protesters seeking to oust Thailand's government broke into the grounds of an air force compound where the acting prime minister was meeting the Election Commission to fix a date for new polls, forcing him to flee
Thai Air Force military (L) face anti-government protesters after they broke into the Royal Thai Air Force base in Bangkok. Hundreds of anti-government protesters broke into the meeting between the election commission and the caretaker government as they discussed for the planned next elections on 15 May 2014, after the results of the 02 February general elections were annulled. According to media reports, Thailand's Election Commission said that the 20 July polling is no longer possible due to political turmoil
Thai anti-government protesters leader Suthep Thaugsuban (C-L) cheers his followers during a street rally march toward Government House and Parliament in Bangkok
An anti-government protester (C) gives instructions to a fellow protester on how to wave a huge Thai flag from atop a barricade near the Government House in Bangkok. Thailand's beleaguered government warned people to stay away from anti-government protests, saying it had to step up security as the two sides in a lengthy political crisis squared off over who is running the country
An anti-government protester looks at a damaged telephone booth after a grenade attack at a protest site outside Government House in Bangkok. Supporters of Thailand's embattled government warned the country's judiciary and Senate against any attempt to install an unelected prime minister, saying it would be a disaster for the nation that could spark civil war
Anti-government protesters making a fist and waving a giant Thai flag, the symbol of the protest, on top of a truck as they rally outside Thai Parliament in a call for the final battle in Bangkok. Protesters marched on many key sites in Bangkok, police fired tear gas and some protesters have been injured. Protest leaders say they are hoping to strike the final blow at the weakened government and usher in a people's council to reform the government
The junta has cracked down hard on dissent and said on Wednesday it had shut down 112 “inappropriate websites”, 250 radio stations and 20 television channels since the coup.
A member of the “red shirt” movement which broadly supports fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, Sombat was caught last week in Chonburi, east of Bangkok, by police who traced him via the Internet network he was using.
A court granted police permission to hold and interrogate him for 12 more days on Thursday. Sombat could be tried by a military court.
Chaturon Chaisang, a former education minister in the ousted government, was arrested by soldiers last month during a news conference at Bangkok's foreign correspondents' club. He faces trial in a military court for refusing to answer a summons by the army regime.
Thailand's military stepped in after six months of political deadlock, the latest episode in a decade old conflict between the Bangkok-based royalist establishment and the mostly rural-based supporters of ousted premier Yingluck Shinawatra and her brother, Thaksin.
The army has sought to win public approval in numerous ways, including the staging of street festivals designed to “bring back happiness to the Thai people”.
It has ordered television regulators to ensure all 64 matches in the upcoming soccer World Cup can be viewed on free-to-air channels, even though entertainment company RS Pcl had already bought rights to the matches.
But the military's campaign to win hearts has not won everyone over. A group of Thai political leaders allied to Thaksin say they will form an overseas movement to resist the coup.
“Returning happiness is just a stunt and a lie. The only way we will be happy is to overthrow these villains,” Jakrapob Penkair, a former government minister and red-shirt founding member, said in a post on his Facebook page on Wednesday.
“We have founded an organisation to fight dictatorship already. The coming days will be historic for Thailand.”
A midnight to 4 a.m. curfew remains in force in Bangkok, but it has been lifted in 30 provinces over the past week to support tourism, which accounts for about 10 percent of the economy.
The junta has warned against any criticism of the military, including in schools, and government officials are also being encouraged to report on each other.
“Some civil servants act in a way that does not respect the nation and does not build national unity. I want people to love the country very much,” Panadda Diskul, deputy permanent secretary for the interior, told Reuters.
“I urge people to report any civil servant that still acts inappropriately or speaks in an unconstructive manner.”