Patnaree Chankij (C), the mother of an anti-junta activist, is escorted by police as she leaves a military court in Bangkok, Thailand, May 8, 2016
© Stringer . / Reuters—REUTERS
May 11, 2016 3:18 AM EDT

The U.S. has condemned Thailand’s ruling junta over a crackdown on the use of Facebook by activists in the country. The crackdown has led to the mother of one activist being detained and charged for little more than receiving a supposedly unacceptable message.

According to Agence France-Presse, Katina Adams, State Department spokeswoman for East Asia and the Pacific, said the actions of the generals, who stole power in a May 2014 coup, “create a climate of intimidation and self-censorship.” She added: “We are troubled by the recent arrests of individuals in connection with online postings, and the detention of Patnaree Chankij.”

Patnaree, 40, the mother of pro-democracy leader Sirawith Seritiwa, was charged last week with lèse majesté or defaming the Thai royal family. She reportedly only responded with the affirmative “ja” to a Facebook message critical of the monarchy, but now faces 15 years in prison. The country’s military rulers have warned that simply “liking” or sharing a post can lead to prosecution, although an official has insisted that authorities have more evidence to prove Patnaree committed lèse majesté.

Eight other activists have also been charged with sedition for administrating a Facebook group named “We Love Gen. Prayut” after the junta leader and self-appointed prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha. All but two have been bailed, but they all face lengthy jail terms if convicted, the Bangkok Post reports.

Activists say private messages have been presented as evidence by the authorities, leading to questions over how the messages were accessed. Facebook has reportedly denied handing users’ private information to the junta.


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