Thailand uses lese majeste to quell criticism: former opposition leader
Bangkok, Jan 21 (efe-epa).- Former Thai opposition leader Thanathorn Juangroonruangkit, accused Wednesday of lese majeste, said Thursday that the Thai government is using this controversial article to silence criticism with the excuse of protecting the monarchy.
Thanathorn made the remarks during a press conference, a day after being accused of defaming the monarchy for questioning a contract with drug company AstraZeneca to produce vaccines against COVID-19 through Siam Bioscience, linked to King Vajiralongkorn.
“(Prime Minister) Prayut always mentions the monarchy to cover his mistakes, the inefficiency of his administration,” said Thanathorn, who led the outlawed anti-junta party Future Forward and faces numerous charges for his political activism.
Thanathorn said Prayut himself recognized that Siam Bioscience belongs to the monarchy during the announcement last year of the agreement with AstraZeneca, which plans to manufacture up to 200 million doses in Thailand for the country and the rest of the region.
He said Prayut and the authorities are involving the royal house in political matters by using the vague Article 112 on royal defamation of the Penal Code that carries penalties of up to 15 years in prison for those deemed to offend or threaten the institution.
He defended his right to criticize the agreement that includes Siam Bioscience, a private company that has received at least 600 million baht (about $20 million) of government aid to produce the vaccines.
Thanathorn, who said Siam Bioscience has no previous experience in the manufacture of vaccines, added that Thailand should have diversified its vaccine agreements more and assured that the country is lagging behind in the vaccination campaign compared to other nations.
The former political opponent, excluded from politics months after his success in the March 2019 elections – in which his party won the third most votes – was also accused Wednesday of violating the Computer Crimes law.
Although since the ascension of King Vajiralongkorn to the throne in 2016, the lese majesty had been seldom applied, authorities began to use it against the leaders and followers of mass demonstrations that called for democratic reforms in the country in recent months.
One of the main demands is the reform of the monarchy, which they accuse of excessive power in politics, and the elimination of the crime of lese majeste.
Since July, at least 54 people, many of them student leaders and even a minor, have been denounced for violating the law.
The Criminal Court of Thailand issued Tuesday the highest penalty for royal defamation in the country by sentencing a former official to 43 years in prison, accused of sharing in 2014 the recording of a radio program criticizing the monarchy. EFE-EPA