BANGKOK — Thailand’s new government on Friday vowed to crack down on what it described as online insults against the revered monarchy, despite widespread criticism of the country’s strict lese majeste rules.
Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung said insulting Thailand’s royals was “unacceptable” and identified an online campaign as an immediate priority.
“The first thing I must tackle as a matter of urgency are those lese majeste websites. They are not allowed during this government,” he told reporters in comments that come within weeks of the new Thai government’s taking power.
“I will set up a war room, a working group to take care of this immediately, starting today. It must be done as soon as possible.”
Under Thailand’s lese majeste legislation, anybody convicted of insulting the king, queen, heir or regent faces up to 15 years in prison.
The laws have come under heavy criticism from rights groups, which have expressed concern that they were used to suppress freedom of expression under the last government, considered close to the establishment.
Soon after winning the July 3 election, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said the rules should not be abused.
But in a sign she did not want direct confrontation with the country’s powerful elites, Yingluck stopped short of saying she would reform the legislation.
Tens of thousands of web pages have been removed from the Internet for allegedly insulting the monarchy in recent years.
Discussion of the monarchy’s role is a long-standing taboo in politically divided Thailand.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 83, the world’s longest-reigning monarch and revered as a demi-god by many Thais, has been in hospital since September 2009.