Police are hunting those who spread a rumour that the army staged a coup to topple the government after the army filed a complaint with them against a social media user and dismissed it as fake news.
Army spokesman Lt Gen Santipong Thampiya on Saturday said the coup rumour was aimed at inciting unrest and discrediting the army.
Army chief Gen Narongphan Jitkaewtae assigned Maj Gen Burin Thongprapai, director of the army’s Office of the Judge Advocate, to lodge a police complaint against those involved in spreading it, Lt Gen Thampiya said.
Pol Lt Gen Kornchai Klayklueng, the commissioner of the Cyber Crime Investigation Bureau (CCIB), said the army filed the complaint with the CCIB on Friday.
“Police will identify those who spread the rumour and summon them for questioning. Evidence will also be gathered to pursue legal action,” Pol Lt Gen Klayklueng said.
Sources at the Defence Ministry said social media was awash with a rumour on Thursday that the army chief staged a coup and sent soldiers to detain “an important person”, which is understood to be Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
In the complaint, the army accused a Facebook user named Nathapong Akkara of spreading fake news, the sources said.
The sources added the rumour caused panic among the public and those involved in spreading and sharing the fake news would be prosecuted for violating the Computer Crime Act (CCA) and other related laws.
Gen Chan-o-cha on Thursday issued an announcement banning the distribution of “fake news” or information causing public fear across all media platforms.
He said some were trying to undermine the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Announcement No.29, signed by the prime minister, was published in the Royal Gazette and issued in compliance with Section 9 of the emergency decree.
Defence Ministry spokesman Lt Gen Kongcheep Tantrawanich condemned those who spread the coup rumour, saying this only worsened the crisis besetting the country.
“During this national crisis, all parties must join forces. We are now at war [against the coronavirus],” the spokesman said.
“Stop spreading fake news. You only make people panic. We need maximum collaboration nationwide to get through this crisis,” he said.
Deputy police spokesman Pol Col Siriwat Deepho said the Royal Thai Police has worked with the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES) to promote “correct” information among the public and prevent fake news and distortions, particularly on online platforms.
The Anti-Fake News Centre on Saturday found fake news claiming that more than 300 soldiers detained the prime minister as the army staged a coup, Pol Col Deepho said.
Noppawan Huajaiman, spokeswoman of the MDES, warned against anyone trying to create and spread fake news causing public disturbances and panic.
Under the CCA, those spreading fake news on online platforms will face a jail term of no more than five years and/or a fine of no more than 100,000 baht, she said.
Meanwhile, a group of 70 lecturers at Thammasat University’s faculty of law yesterday said the emergency decree announcement violated the constitution.
The National Human Rights Commission also issued a news bulletin on Friday, saying that six local media organisations had asked the agency to look into claims the government was trying to suppress freedom of expression by the media and the public through the emergency decree.