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Thai opposition figure charged for questioning royal link to COVID vaccine – Reuters

A Thai court charged an opposition figure with defamation of the monarchy and cybercrime on Monday, more than a year after he exposed a COVID-19 vaccine produced by a crown-owned company.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit has been charged with royal libel under Section 112 (Lese-Majeste) of the Criminal Code as well as the Computer Crimes Act for comments he made during an event livestreamed via Facebook on January 18, 2021, according to the indictment. seen by BenarNews.

“The case against me is politically motivated. … It is clear that I am one of the main opponents [figures]and I think the purpose is to shut me up to scare the public,” Thanathorn said in court after posting 90,000 baht ($2,676) bail.

During last year’s online debate, Thanathorn, the former leader of the disbanded Future Forward party, questioned the government’s pandemic policy. The topic of the livestream event was “Royal Vaccine: Who Wins and Who Loses”.

That policy included choosing Siam Bioscience Co., Ltd., which is owned by the Crown Property Bureau, to collaborate with British-Swedish AstraZeneca to produce up to 200 million doses of the vaccine a year, a spokesperson said. of the government.

“What I did was for the public good and the protection of the royal institution,” Thanathorn said on Monday, denying insulting the monarchy and criticizing the government.

“So many people in Thailand over the past three years have been charged under Section 112, and I think these charges are against human rights principles,” said billionaire Thanathorn, 43. whose business is an auto parts manufacturer.

“If this was a democratic government, it wouldn’t happen,” said Thanathorn, who saw his party – the third-largest at the time – ordered dissolved by a court in February 2020 over loans that he had given her. He has been banned from political life for 10 years.

Monday’s bail condition prohibits him from saying or doing anything that could harm the monarchy.

Article 112 of Thailand’s Penal Code concerns Lese-Majeste, a law that prohibits defaming, insulting or threatening the monarchy and allows for a sentence of up to 15 years behind bars for each conviction. Similarly, violation of cybersecurity laws is punishable by up to five years in prison.

While Thanathorn is the main opposition figure to face a complaint from Lese-Majeste, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said at least 173 people, including 13 minors, have been charged since the street protests against the Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, the constitution and the royal family began in July 2020. Thanathorn has also been charged separately with sedition but has not yet been tried in this case.

Charges against Thanathorn

The Attorney General’s Office filed a complaint against Thanathorn in the Criminal Court “for defamation, insult or malice” against the monarchy.

The indictment said his statement ‘was intended to cause the king’s public to doubt’ whether the monarchy was involved in the government’s actions, using the budget to support the production and supply of the vaccines. by Siam Bioscience. He called Thanathorn’s statements libelous.

During the January 2021 live stream, Thanathorn asked if Prayuth’s administration chose Siam Bioscience as the vaccine producer “as a favor to someone.”

“Is it to generate political popularity or to really care about the Thai people?” he said at the time, adding that the government should have diversified its sources of vaccines.

Newin Chorchaithip, deputy minister of digital economy and society, filed a complaint with Thai police the same week.

“We have provided police with evidence that what Thanathorn said is inaccurate regarding the quality of the vaccine as well as his false claim that the institution is involved in the vaccine, which has made people wonder,” he said. Newin told reporters at the time.

Thanathorn, meanwhile, defended his statement, saying the prime minister “always uses the monarchy to cover up his mistakes and administrative inefficiency, simply citing his loyalty and swearing to protect the institution.”

On Monday, he asked “everyone to stand up and fight against the tyranny of Prayuth’s government.

“If we can keep quiet, keep our mouths shut, they win,” he said.

“Whether what I said had an impact on people or not, people can decide for themselves. But we deny all allegations and are prepared to fight to the bitter end, believing in our innocence,” Thanathorn said.

The court has set June 6 as the day the evidence will be presented before the trial.

Uayporn Satitpanyapan in Washington contributed to this report.