Thai politician charged after criticizing general's 'sexist' remark

Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan gestures during an interview with Reuters at the Defence Ministry in Bangkok, Thailand, February 18, 2016. Thailand is pursuing closer ties - and possible arms deals - with Russia, with relations between Thailand and its traditional partner, the United States, cooling in the wake of a May 2014 coup. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom - RTX27SN8 (Reuters)

By Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Aukkarapon Niyomyat BANGKOK (Reuters) - A politician has been charged with breaking Thailand's harsh computer crimes law after he accused a senior general in the ruling junta of making sexist remarks about the ousted former prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, police said on Thursday. Former commerce minister Watana Muangsook, a member of the Puea Thai Party that was ousted in a 2014 coup, criticized the junta's deputy leader in a Facebook post over his remarks that soldiers photograph Yingluck because she is pretty. Yingluck became Thailand's first female prime minister when she led the Puea Thai Party to victory in a July 2011 general election, only to be toppled in the largely bloodless coup. She was also the target of gender-based slurs during protests aimed at toppling her government. Thailand has been bitterly divided for a decade between supporters of Yingluck and her brother, populist former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and the traditional military-backed establishment in the capital and the south. Thaksin fled abroad in 2008 to avoid a jail sentence for corruption and retains deep support among rural Thais in the north. He was himself ousted by the army in 2006. Watana, in a strongly worded statement, accused deputy junta leader General Prawit Wongsuwan of making "sexist comments" about Yingluck and asked the military to stop following her. Police investigator Colonel Poomyos Lekkla said police had charged Watana, who could now ask for bail. Watana told reporters at the Bangkok South Criminal Court on Wednesday that he would seek bail and fight the charge. "I have prepared 100,000 baht ($2,819)," he said. Prawit, in response to questions about why soldiers follow and take photos of Yingluck, said on Monday it was "probably because she is pretty". The military has curbed dissent since taking power and pushed back the timetable for elections to 2017. Political gatherings are banned by the junta but there have been scattered protests against military rule, most quickly quelled by troops and police. Critics of the junta have increasingly been hit with charges of computer crimes and sedition, according to rights groups. "We have warned many times," Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters in response to questions about Watana being charged. "Don't say anything that causes divisions." Junta spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvaree said Watana's charges were a "matter for police" but that his Facebook post was damaging. "Mr. Watana committed a crime by publicizing misleading information," he said. Watana was taken from his home by officers on Wednesday, the Puea Thai Party said. He was detained at a military camp for several hours before being released. Yingluck defended Watana in a Facebook post on Wednesday. "His detention will further damage Thailand's image internationally," she said. ($1 = 35.4700 baht) (Additional reporting by Pracha Hariraksapitak; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Paul Tait)