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Thai Government Files Royal Insult Complaint Against Opposition Figure Over Vaccine Criticism

Thai Government Files Royal Insult Complaint Against Opposition Figure Over Vaccine Criticism

Thailand's government on Wednesday filed a criminal complaint of defaming the monarchy against banned opposition politician Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, after he criticised its COVID19 vaccine strategy.

BANGKOK: Thailand’s government on Wednesday filed a criminal complaint of defaming the monarchy against banned opposition politician Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, after he criticised its COVID-19 vaccine strategy.

The move could mark the highest-profile lese majeste case since a wave of anti-government protests emerged last year and extended to criticism of King Maha Vajiralongkorn over accusations of meddling in politics and taking too much power.

The complaint against Thanathorn under Article 112 of the Thai criminal code came two days after he commented that the government was too reliant on a company owned by the Crown Property Bureau, which is under the king’s personal control, to produce vaccines for Thais.

Thailand’s royal defamation law, known as lese majeste, punishes defaming or insulting the Thai king by up to 15 years in prison.

Government officials who filed the complaint told reporters Thanathorn had defamed the monarchy in multiple remarks alleging it was involved in the vaccine strategy.

“Thanathorn distorted facts and caused misunderstanding among people,” Suporn Atthawong, a minister in the prime minister’s office, told reporters.

“He violated the monarchy, which upset Thai people who love and protect the monarchy.”

The complaint, which also included a cyber crime accusation of uploading false information, came after Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who first took power in a 2014 military coup, vowed on Tuesday to prosecute “distorted” information about the vaccine strategy.

Thanathorn, banned from politics for 10 years by a court last year, could not immediately be reached for comment.

But the Progressive Movement he heads said there was no insult in his comments at the group’s event titled, “Royal Vaccine: Who Benefits and Who Doesn’t?” broadcast on Facebook Live on Monday.

“It’s obvious that 112 is being used again as a political tool,” Pannika Wanich, Thanathorn’s colleague and one of the group’s leaders, told Reuters, referring to the law.

Charles Santiago, a Malaysian lawmaker who chairs the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), called the move “yet another illustration of the cynical weaponisation of the lese majeste law to stifle any form of criticism”.

Government spokeswoman Ratchada Dhanadirek said prosecution of illegal actions was up to the justice system, not the government.

“The government doesn’t need to use the law as a political tool to deal with anyone,” she told Reuters. “We’re focused on urgent economic problems and long-term national recovery.”

The Progressive Movement was formed after a court last year ruled to dissolve Thanathorn’s Future Forward Party, which came in third in 2019 elections held five years after Prayuth’s coup.

Opposition parties accused Prayuth’s junta of designing the elections to ensure he remained in power. Prayuth’s pro-military party has said the elections were free and fair.

(Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Ed Davies and Clarence Fernandez)

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first published:January 20, 2021, 14:36 IST