By KASAMAKORN CHANWANPEN,
POLICE from Sutthisan Station conducted a search yesterday of an office of Prachathai, the online news agency, to investigate links to the recent arrest of one of the agency’s reporters in Ratchaburi.
Reporter Taweesak Kerdpoka and four activists were accused of breaching the Referendum Law after they were found in a pick-up truck on Sunday along with alleged anti-charter booklets and stickers reading “Vote NO” in reference to the upcoming plebiscite.
An officer from Sutthisan Station said police had a court-approved warrant issued to search for relevant documents and check if there were connections between the agency and the recent arrest. However, police did not find any evidence linking Prachatai to the alleged anti-charter materials.
Taweesak said the warrant authorised police to seize documents, but they did not take any material from the office. Military officers stood outside observing the search, but generally the authorities seemed friendly, he said.
The reporter said the office was under suspicion of being behind the New Democracy Movement (NDM) activists, probably because he was among those arrested with them and police had been trying to identify the ‘masterminds’.
The office returned to normal operations after police left, Taweesak said.
Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha said at his weekly press briefing at Government House that responsible officers were working on the case and they should be given time to do their job.
Prayut said the officers followed legal procedures and would take action in line with the law, adding that people should instead pay attention to genuine charter issues rather than “false” ones.
The Constitution Drafting Commission (CDC), meanwhile, is considering whether to take action against the NDM activists involved in producing and distributing the booklets.
The CDC’s subcommittee on public relations said agents were examining the controversial documents, which allegedly contain content opposing the charter draft. Initially, the CDC divided the content into four categories – opinions different from the drafters’, opinions opposing the charter draft, half-truths and distorted facts, a source in the CDC said.
He said opinions differing from the CDC’s and against the charter draft were not illegal but the half-truths and distorted facts were problematic.
However, the CDC had not yet resolved whether to report violations of the Referendum Law to the Election Commission, the source said, adding that it would launch a public relations campaign to correct the distorted facts.
In reference to the arrest in Ban Pong in Ratchaburi, the source said people distributing anti-charter documents might not be charged for violating Article 61 of the Referendum Law because the intention behind the action might not be clear. But those responsible for producing content distorting the charter should be held legally accountable, he said.
Article 61 bans “false”, “rude”, “inciting” or “intimidating” messages related to the referendum, with maximum penalties of up to 10 years jail and or a fine of up to Bt200,000.
The international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Monday called on authorities to withdraw all charges against Taweesak.
“It is unacceptable that local officials, acting under the junta’s authority, fail to distinguish between political activists and a journalist who is covering their activities,” Benjamin Ismail, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, said.