Thai politician charged with royal insult over vaccine speech


Banned opposition politician Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit walks into a police station after police accused him of defaming the monarchy, after he accused the government of relying too much on a company owned by the royal family to produce its supply in vaccines against the coronavirus, in Bangkok, Thailand, March 30, 2021. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

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BANGKOK, April 11 (Reuters) – A prominent Thai politician faces up to 20 years in prison following his indictment on Monday for insulting the king and breaking a cyber law, after criticizing the government for its overreliance on internet. regard for a company owned by the royal family to supply COVID-19 vaccines.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the 43-year-old leader of the disbanded Future Forward Party, is charged with lèse-majesté and breaching cyber laws during a Facebook livestream in January 2021, in which he said the government had mismanaged its vaccination campaign and unfairly favored Siam Bioscience, a company owned by King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Thailand has one of the strictest lèse-majesté laws in the world and a conviction carries a maximum sentence of 15 years, while breaches of its Computer Crimes Act carry a sentence of up to up to five years in prison.

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Thanathorn, who was released on bail on Monday, denies insulting the monarchy and said his criticism was aimed at the government, not the royal family.

“What I did was for the public good and the protection of the royal institution,” he told reporters.

“I want to emphasize that the use of this law is not a good thing, and certainly not good for the monarchy,” he added, referring to the lèse-majesté law.

Siam Bioscience, which had not produced vaccines until last year, has been chosen to manufacture Britain’s AstraZeneca (AZN.L) COVID vaccine for distribution in Southeast Asia. It also received $20 million in government grants to expand its capacity. Read more

Thanathorn had also complained that the government should have diversified its sources of vaccines.

Thailand then used three different types of COVID vaccines, which Thanathorn said was proof that his remarks were in the public interest.

The complaint against him was filed by an official in the Prime Minister’s office. The government, AstraZeneca and Siam Bioscience honored the vaccine production agreement.

The attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Thanathorn was banned from politics for 10 years in 2020 by the Constitutional Court over a loan he gave to his former opposition party. His indictment comes as dozens of members of a pro-democracy student movement affiliated with his party await trial on similar charges, which they deny.

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Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Written by Martin Petty; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor

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