Thai opposition leader Thanathorn charged with lèse-majesté

Bangkok, Mar 30 (efe-epa).- Thai police filed charges on Tuesday against leading opposition figure and former prime ministerial candidate Thanathorn Juangroonruangkit for allegedly insulting the monarchy, the accused said.

The charge against Thanathorn came after he criticized in January a deal reached by Siam Bioscience, a company owned by Thai King Vajiralongkorn, to produce AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccines in Thailand.

Criticizing or insulting the monarchy is a serious crime in Thailand punishable by up to 15 years in prison, a law which the UN and rights groups say infringes on the right to freedom of expression.

The opposition leader attended a police station in Bangkok to hear the charges of lèse-majesté.

Speaking to reporters, Thanathorn said he is not afraid of the charge and specified that his criticism was good for the country, as he believes it has forced the government to diversify its Covid-19 vaccine policy.

“I want to stress that what I did was good for the country (…) There is nothing to fear with this case,” the 42-year-old entrepreneur said.

At the time, Thanathorn claimed that Siam Bioscience had no prior experience in vaccine manufacturing and that Thailand should have diversified its vaccine deals more so as not to fall behind in supplying itself with doses of the inoculation.

Thanathorn stormed into Thai politics in 2019 by leading his newly-formed party, Future Forward, to third place in long awaited elections on a progressive reform agenda that was widely supported by young people in the country.

However, the judiciary stripped Thanathorn of his seat a few months later and in early 2020 dissolved his party and disqualified him as a politician, along with the formation’s steering committee.

Although lèse-majesté had hardly been applied since King Vajiralongkorn’s accession to the throne in 2016, the authorities began to use the draconian legislation in recent months to target leaders and supporters of the protest movement that has been calling for democratic reforms in the country since last summer.

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