Sedition charge for Thai woman alleging army graft on Facebook

  • AFP, Bangkok
  • Updated: Dec 01, 2015 21:04 IST
A giant bronze statue of former King Ram Khamhaeng at the Rajabhakti Park. Accusations of corruption during the construction of the park are threatening to damage an anti-graft drive by the ruling junta in Thailand. (REUTERS)

A Thai woman appeared in military court on Tuesday after being slapped with sedition charges for allegedly sharing Facebook posts accusing the military of graft in building a multi-million dollar memorial to the monarchy.

Juthathip Verochanakorn, 61, was charged under Section 116 of Thailand’s criminal code -- the equivalent of sedition -- as well as under the country’s wide-ranging Computer Crimes Act. She faces a maximum of seven years in jail if convicted.

Police said Juthathip shared posts about Rajabhakti Park, an army-built tribute to Thailand’s monarchy that has been engulfed in corruption allegations.

“There were around 20 lines of Facebook posts making comments about government corruption and Rajabhakti Park,” police lieutenant colonel Sathian Wittanamala told AFP. “She reposted the messages from friends,” he said, adding she has apologised for the posts.

Thailand’s generals seized power last year partially justifying their takeover as a necessary move to curb endemic corruption among the kingdom’s civilian politicians and protect the royal family.

But the park scandal has undermined those anti-corruption pledges. Rajabhakti Park consists of seven enormous bronze statues of famous Thai kings, each costing well over $1 million.

The project was overseen by general Udomdej Sitabutr, a former army chief and the junta’s deputy defence minister, who is facing pressure to step down.

But it has been dogged by allegations that backhanders were demanded for various construction contracts.

The junta leadership, including Prime Minister general Prayut Chan-O-Cha, has insisted there was no graft, but the accusations have still swirled in local media, transfixing a country where dissent has become rare.

Under pressure, the defence ministry last week announced its own investigation, but eyebrows were raised when it emerged that the probe would be overseen by Prayut’s brother, who is also a general.

On Tuesday the embattled Udomdej told reporters he “never thought of making a benefit” from the scheme. He said the probe into the finances of the project will prove the army is free of guilt.

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