Thanathorn to be charged with insulting monarchy: minister

Opposition figure Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit will be charged with defaming the monarchy over comments he made at a discussion of a royally produced vaccine, Digital Economy Minister Puttipong Punnakanta said early Wednesday afternoon.

Puttipong on Wednesday afternoon said he ordered his team to file a royal defamation complaint at the Technology Crime Suppression Division after the 42-year-old former head of the progressive opposition criticized the government Monday in a livestream discussion titled “Royal Vaccine: Who Benefits and Who Doesn’t?”

After Thanathorn’s Future Forward Party placed a strong third in the 2019 election, he was quickly disqualified from taking his seat. The courts later ordered the party disbanded and its leaders banned from politics for 10 years.

A conviction for royal defamation under Section 112 is punishable by up to 15 years in prison per offense, and although the law had been set aside since King Vajiralonkorn took the throne, about 50 people have been charged with it in recent weeks after a groundswell of protests against critical of both the government and royalty.

Open criticism of the monarchy, once unthinkable, burst into public view last year with swelling protests calling for its powers to be checked. 

Recently, critics have questioned why it was given the sole authority over producing Thailand’s vaccine supply through a new and untested company under the palace’s control.

During Monday’s discussion, streamed live from his Facebook page, Thanathorn questioned the deal struck for that new company, Siam Bioscience, to produce Thailand’s supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Siam Bioscience is owned by the Crown Property Bureau.

The former politician noted that the government channeled billions in taxpayer money to a single, private company.

“Why did you choose Siam Bioscience as the vaccine producer? Are they trying to do favors for somebody?” Thanathorn said in the livestream. “Is this to build political popularity or to really care for Thai people?

In response, Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul on Tuesday morning blasted Thanathorn for not minding his own business and not being “grateful” to the monarch.

“People who say something like this know everything but the monarchy’s mercy,” Anutin said. “Thailand has come this far because of the monarchy’s innovations and  planning for the foundations of a public health system recognized around the world, which has made all people in the country live a strong and healthy lifestyle.”

He accused Thanathorn of “politicizing” the vaccine’s rollout.

A Thammasat University student holding a sign accusing it of being doing as a publicity stunt for the institution was dragged off to a police station Tuesday after she was allegedly slapped by a security guard while protesting at Bangkok’s Iconsiam shopping mall. She countered with an assault complaint against the guard.

After many years supporting progressive causes, billionaire Thanathorn burst onto the political scene publicly in 2018 with his announcement that he was founding a new party he would lead to contest the next election. 

His uncompromising stances of reining in the military and corruption while boosting civil rights and reforming the economy were greeted as existential threats by the old guard, which sought ways to neutralize him.

He was declared ineligible to serve because he had once been involved in a defunct media company – it had published in-flight magazines. The court-ordered dissolution of Future Forward last year in a widely criticized decision precipitated the largest street protests seen since the military seized power in 2014.

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