Thailand’s Key Government Critic Charged With Royal Defamation
(Bloomberg) -- Thai police charged one of the country’s most high-profile government critics with royal defamation after he questioned the selection of a company with links to the monarchy for vaccine supply.
The former prime ministerial candidate, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, was on Tuesday charged under the lese majeste and computer crimes acts for a live Facebook broadcast in January in which he criticized Thailand’s vaccine strategy and the selection of Siam Bioscience Co. as a manufacturer for AstraZeneca Plc shots. The police are expected to submit evidence to prosecutors on May 7, according to Kritsadang Nutcharat, Thanathorn’s lawyer.
The Thai government has defended its strategy of sourcing about 97% of its confirmed vaccine orders from AstraZeneca, the majority of which will be produced locally by Siam Bioscience, which was selected by the British-Swedish drug maker. The Southeast Asian nation has also ordered some shots from Sinovac Biotech Ltd., besides clearing Johnson & Johnson’s single shot vaccine for emergency local use.
“What I did was beneficial to the country. What I did has spurred the government to revisit its vaccine strategy. I have no concern for this case,” said Thanathorn, who earlier called the charges an attempt to “discredit him.”
Thailand’s monarchy has faced increased criticism in recent months, with a protest movement calling for more transparency and accountability from the institution that sits at the apex of power in Thailand. At least 76 individuals in 66 lawsuits were charged under lese majeste since Nov. 24, according to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.
Thailand’s lese majeste law mandates as many as 15 years in prison for each instance of defaming, insulting or threatening the king, queen, heir apparent or regent.
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