BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai people wanted for breaking a law on insulting the monarchy have issued death threats against the Thai prime minister, from Laos where they have fled to avoid arrest, Thailand’s top security officer said on Monday.
Last month, Thailand pressed Laos over the extradition of Thai fugitives accused of lese majeste, or royal insult, which carries a jail term of up to 15 years for each offence.
Thailand’s military government says there are up to six Thai suspects in Laos who it is seeking.
General Thawip Netniyom, the head of Thailand’s National Security Council, told reporters the suspects last week posted death threats against Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan on Facebook.
“As we’re pushing Laos for their arrest, they’re reacting, saying that if they had a chance they would hurt them,” Thawip told reporters.
“Death threats against important people could lead to another criminal charge.”
Since taking power in a 2014 coup, Thailand’s junta has taken a tough stance on dissenters.
It stepped up prosecutions of perceived insults to the country’s revered monarchy following the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej in October last year.
Last week, Prayuth, a former army chief who led the 2014 coup, said he cared more about the country than his life.
Prawit told reporters on Monday he was not worried about the threats and did not need more bodyguards.
A Thai political analyst said the dissidents in Laos appeared to be frustrated and powerless to do anything.
“It’s all talk. It’s all they can do to vent,” Kan Yuenyong, executive director of Siam Intelligence Unit think-tank, told Reuters, referring to the threats.
“I doubt they can do much at all in the current situation.”
The Thai government has asked seven countries, including Laos, to extradite a total of 19 suspects accused of lese majeste.
Thawip plans to visit Laos to follow up on the government’s extradition request and said on Monday he was awaiting Lao confirmation of his travel plan.
Communist Laos has made no public comment on the case.
The landlocked country has only a tenth of Thailand’s population of more than 65 million and its economy is barely one fortieth the size.
Thailand thanked Laos for blocking a social media channel critical of the monarchy late last year, but the channel has since resumed.
Reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat, Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Writing by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Robert Birsel