Police in Thailand arrested a student pro-democracy activist Saturday for sharing a story about the country’s new king that was posted on Facebook by the Thai-language service of the BBC.
The arrest was apparently the first under the country’s tough lese majeste law since King Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun took the throne on Thursday, succeeding his late father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Lese majeste, or insulting the monarchy, carries a penalty of three to 15 years in prison.
Duangthip Karith of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said that law student Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa was arrested while attending a Buddhist ceremony in the northeastern province of Chaiyaphum.
Jatupat posted that he was being arrested and briefly broadcast the police reading the charge on a Facebook Live video stream.
Jatupat is a prominent member of Dao Din, a small student organization that has held public protests against Thailand’s military government.
Critics of the lese majeste law, known as Article 112, say it is used to silence political dissidents. The military regime that took power in a 2014 coup has especially cracked down on commentary on the internet.
The authorities had warned that even “shares” — links to posting, rather than the content itself — could be considered in violation of the law. Jatupat also posted several passages from the BBC Thai story.
The BBC story included mentions of the king’s personal life when he was crown prince, including details of three marriages that ended in divorce and other material that cannot be published in the Thai press.
Duangthip said Thai Lawyers for Human Rights believed that Jatupat’s case was the first where the accused had nothing to do with the creation or editing of the content considered illegal.
It also appeared that the case may be the first involving material produced by a respected mainstream media outlet, although previous cases have involved content from several foreign tabloids.
Mainstream media have had stories about the Thai monarchy censored, by blocking their websites and the voluntary stopping of distribution of editions of magazines and newspapers in Thailand, including The Economist and The International New York Times.
Dao Din issued a statement calling for Jatupat’s immediate and unconditional release, and the dropping of the charge.
“He is one of thousands of people who shared a news story published (by) BBC Thai, but in his case a warrant for his arrest under Article 112 was issued for sharing this information,” it said.
The statement called the arrest a violation of human rights.
Duangthip said that one of the lawyers group’s members had met with Jatupat in Khon Kaen province, where the complaint against him had been filed by a soldier, and that he denied the charge. She said they would apply for bail on Sunday.