Thai Digital Economy and Society Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta told AFP that an unidentified man and woman were recently charged with violating Thailand’s computer crimes act for separate social media posts about the coronavirus that has left 171 dead in China and infected at least 8,000 people around the world.
One of the social media posts was a misleading video about the virus, while the other post was about a false case of the virus in a Thai beachside city, AFP reported. The offenders could each face up to five years in prison.
"They already admitted that they created fake news," Buddhipongse said, AFP reported, also noting that additional suspects are being investigated over their potential spreading of false information.
"You better think a lot more and look for sources of where news comes from,” Buddhipongse warned. The arrests come as Thailand has increased its efforts to monitor false online information through an anti-fake news center that opened in the capital city of Bangkok last year. The center has been criticized by some groups over freedom of speech violations.
At least 14 cases of the virus have been detected in Thailand, making it the country with the second-highest number of cases after China.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday declared that the virus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan in Hubei Province some time in December, is a public health emergency of international concern. However, the WHO has not yet issued recommendations on international travel or trade restrictions.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also confirmed Thursday the first case of person-to-person transmission of the virus within the US.
The spread of the Wuhan coronavirus has been compared to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak, which was first reported in Asia back in 2003 and was caused by a similar coronavirus. It spread to 37 countries in North America, South America, Europe and Asia, infecting more than 8,000 people and killing 774 in 2003 over a six-month-period before being contained. The Wuhan coronavirus has already infected some 8,000 people in about a month’s time.