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Thai citizen accused of insulting king on Facebook

/ Source: The Associated Press

Police have arrested a Thai computer programmer on charges of insulting the nation's revered king on a Facebook page, his lawyer said Monday. The charges carry a penalty of up to 15 years in prison.

Surapak Puchaisaeng, a 40-year-old Bangkok resident, was also accused of violating the Computer Crime Act for the alleged defamatory comments, his lawyer Lomrak Meemuean said.

Surapak denied insulting 83-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Police confiscated his desktop and laptop computers, his lawyer said.

Cases involving insults to the monarchy, known as lese majeste, have skyrocketed in recent years, but Friday's arrest of Surapak is the first since a new government took power in August, according to the activist network Freedom Against Censorship Thailand.

Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubumrung, who oversees national police affairs, last month said cracking down on anti-monarchy websites is high on his agenda.

"Websites with monarchy-insulting content ... cannot exist under this government," Chalerm said, adding he would set up a "war room" to closely monitor the situation.

The lese majeste law covers anyone who "defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the regent."

The 2007 Computer Crime Act, which prohibits circulation of material that jeopardizes national security or causes panic, carries a maximum jail term of five years and a fine of $3,300.

Critics say the lese majeste law is frequently used as a weapon against political opponents. Almost any critical comment touching on the monarchy can be construed as disloyalty to the institution.