A billionaire Thai opposition was accused of bringing the monarchy into disrepute after questioning the government’s alleged over-dependence on coronavirus vaccines from a company linked to the royalty.
The founder of the now-disbanded Future Forward Party, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, posted a video on Facebook in January asking if Thailand was leaning too much on Siam Bioscience for its vaccination campaign.
The company is owned by the Crown Property Bureau, which manages the multi-billion dollar fortune of the royal family.
Police on Tuesday accused Thanathorn of lese majeste (insulting the monarch) over the video and a computer crime, but he was dishonest. “It has had a positive result — encouraging the government to reassess the vaccine policy to manage the Covid-19 situation. There is nothing to worry about,” he said after being charged.
“(The police) did not bring up any quotes or anything that was said specifically. It was generally a charge for speaking via Facebook.”
Those who are convicted under Thailand’s strict imperial defamation laws can face up to 15 years in prison per charge.
Thailand has ordered 61 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Siam Bioscience plans to make 200 million doses of that vaccine every year for the state and the wider region.
Thanathorn will again have to inform the police on 7 May.
Before this could dissolve, his Future Forward Party was Thailand’s third-largest party, attracting millions of supporters who were attracted to its anti-establishment platform during the 2019 election.
But they fell clearly from legal action, which banned Thanathorn, including its top officials from politics, and dissolved the party.
More than 70 people in Thailand are currently facing charges of royal defamation, including prominent student leaders who have kicked off a youth-led anti-democracy movement since July.
Its demonstrations last year attracted thousands at their peak but the movement has slowed down in recent months due to a new surge of coronavirus cases.
Rubber bullets and water cannons were used by the police to break up a demonstration outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok on 20 March.
The protests have called for the withdrawal of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government and the rewriting of the military-scripted constitution.
But the most contentious demand has been for monarchical reforms, including the abolition of imperial defamation laws.