BANGKOK Thai junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha lashed out at journalists on Wednesday, saying he would "probably just execute" those who did "not report the truth", in the latest outburst aimed at Thailand's media.
Last month Prayuth said he had the power to shut down news outlets. On Wednesday, he took an even harsher line.
"We'll probably just execute them," said Prayuth, without a trace of a smile, when asked by reporters how the government would deal with those that do not adhere to the official line.
"You don't have to support the government, but you should report the truth," the former army chief said, telling reporters to write in a way that bolsters national reconciliation in the kingdom.
Prayuth, who is also prime minister, heads the ruling junta or National Council for Peace and Order. He toppled the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in a coup last May, that followed months of protests aimed at ousting Yingluck.
Known for his abrupt manner and impulsive remarks, Prayuth launched a crack down on dissenters after seizing power in May. He has said Thailand is not ready to lift martial law, which gives the army sweeping powers, including for arrest and detention.
In January the junta forced a German foundation to cancel a forum on press freedom saying Thailand was at a sensitive juncture. Since taking power, the junta has made full use of martial law, which also bans all political gatherings.
Prayuth was particularly critical of the Thai-language Matichon daily newspaper, accusing the paper of siding with ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his allies.
"Don't think I don't know that your writing is pro the previous administration," he told a Matichon reporter shortly before boarding a plane to Brunei. "The previous Interior Ministry bought many advertising spaces from you."
Since the army toppled Thaksin, Yingluck's brother, in a previous coup in 2006, Thailand has been sharply divided.
Thaksin support comes largely from the rural and urban working class, but traditional establishment in the capital and the south loathe Thaksin and accuse him of nepotism, cronyism and republican leanings, accusations he denies.
Shortly after taking power Prayuth launched a year-long road map aimed at reconciling Thais.
(Reporting by Pracha Hariraksapitak; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)