BANGKOK – Police in Thailand have arrested 12 people who shared a Facebook post about a British tourist's allegation that police had refused to accept her rape complaint.
A lawyer for the 12 Thai men said Thursday they were arrested in several different provinces this week on charges of violating the Computer Crime Act. They could face up to five years in prison and fines if convicted of spreading false information and damaging national security.
Police deny turning away the British woman and say their investigation determined that her claim of being raped on the island of Koh Tao in June was untrue.
The Computer Crime Act has been used to prosecute people for posting about the country's monarchy or political issues but rarely for purely criminal cases.
The 19-year-old woman, who has since returned to England, has told journalists she believes she was drugged by someone who spiked her drink, and woke up on a beach to find that she had been raped and robbed.
"From our initial investigation, we concluded and reported to our police commissioner that at the moment there is no evidence or witnesses to prove that the incident has happened, not on a drug claim or a rape claim," Deputy Tourist Police chief Maj. Gen. Surachet Hakpan, head of the investigation, said at a news conference Thursday.
Koh Tao, though popular with foreign backpackers, has gained an unsavory reputation since the murders of British nationals Hannah Witheridge and David Miller, who were beaten to death on a beach there in 2014.
That case has been plagued with speculation that two migrant workers from Myanmar convicted and sentenced to death for the crime were scapegoats. Skeptics also point to several other unexplained tourist deaths on the island, suggesting that well-connected local residents have covered up deadly attacks.
The Computer Crime Act has been used to prosecute people for Facebook postings about the country's monarchy or political issues but rarely for purely criminal cases.
"These men just simply clicked share on a Facebook post. They have no intention of spreading false rumors or damaging the country. I can only assume that the police made such a quick arrest to stop people from sharing news on this case, which they see as bad for the tourism industry," said lawyer Winyat.
Thai police said two more arrest warrants have been issued for suspects living aboard. One is a British editor who reported the news on her website, Samui Times, and the other is a Thai self-styled online sleuth who has written Facebook posts about the allegation.