(AA) – Thai police have arrested six people they accuse of belonging to an underground order set up to destabilize the country, according to local media.
The Nation reported Tuesday that the men were being held for membership in the “Banpodj Thailand network,” which authorities have said plots to overthrow the monarchy.
The network is renowned among “Red Shirts” — supporters of the deposed Shinawatra clan, long at odds with the conservative establishment — for comment critical of the country’s military junta and the rival Democrat Party.
Thailand has a harsh lese-majeste law, which makes it a crime to defame, insult or threaten members of the royal establishment. Critics, however, say that it is often also used to clamp down on free speech and undermine anyone seen to be critical of the establishment while maintaining its grip on power.
Police claim the network has been operating since 2011 and is led by a man referred to as Banpodj, who has fled Thailand and continues to publish information aimed at dismantling the monarchy from overseas.
The Nation reported Colonel Siripong Timula, the deputy commander of the country’s Technology Crime Suppression Division, as saying that the group divided its activities into three levels.
He claimed that the leader’s level took charge of spreading ideas along with producing video clips and articles; an operational level upheld the task of generalizing the ideas of the group through social media; while he alleged that a collaborator level took care of the network’s finances.
Material was propagated through social media, such as Facebook, blogs and YouTube, he added.
“From the investigation, the suspects in this network operated systematically. They had been dividing work, holding secret meetings, and attempting to use distorted information to propagate false information,” Timula said.
He added that the six arrested men — Damrong S., Siwaporn P., Neongkoon U., Paisit J., Aunchan P., and Tara W. — were part of the operational level.
The men are likely to be charged under Article 14 of the Computer Crime Act for importing illegal content into computer systems, in addition to the lese-majeste charge.
Police have asked supporters to stop fuelling the movement, saying they would be held culpable for their actions.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s democratically elected government was overthrown by the ruling military junta in a May 22 coup. Many analysts see a recent five-year ban from politics imposed on her as a way of keeping the Shinawatra clan away from elections that they, or affiliates, have won for the past decade.
Since seizing power, the National Council for Peace and Order (the junta’s official name) has abrogated the constitution and the senate, and banned all opposition and criticism of the junta’s orders.
The Banpodj website Tuesday showed various attacks on the ruling establishment but none on the royal family.