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Thai politician charged over video mocking junta leader

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A former Thai politician is facing up to five years in prison after being arrested for sharing a video mocking the leader of the military junta, police said Saturday.

Narong Reungthanawong, 39, a member of the Pheu Thai party of ousted former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, was arrested on Friday afternoon and charged with violating Thailand’s Computer Crime Act, Police General Chairop Choonnawat told Reuters.

Narong, a former councillor in the Bangkok district of Bang Khen, shared a satirical music video critical of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha using the Line messaging application in mid-January, Chairop said.

Government officials who saw the video reported Narong to police, he said.

“The overall content (of the video), the message, and the images damaged the prime minister and the government,” Chairop said.

Sunai Phasuk, a senior Thailand researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the arrest of Narong was a sign of an increasing slide into authoritarianism by General Prayuth, who siezed power from Yingluck in a May 2014 coup.

Critics of the prime minister have increasingly been hit with charges of computer crimes and sedition, mostly for alleging corruption by the military government, Sunai said.

But Narong seems to be the first person charged for simply making fun of the junta leader, he said.

“Prayuth seems to have very thin skin when it comes to tolerance for criticism and mockery,” Sunai said. “He is making himself untouchable.”

Human rights groups have criticised what they say is a sharp rise in repression in the kingdom since the military took over.

Hundreds have been briefly detained by the military without charge for sessions of “attitude adjustment”. The government has also sharply increased the use of secretive military trials against people deemed security threats, including dozens charged with violating draconian laws against insulting the monarchy.

Reporting By Pairat Temphairojana and Aubrey Belford