On Wednesday, the Thai government filed a formal lèse-majesté complaint against prominent billionaire opposition leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. Thanathorn, the founder of the progressive Future Forward Party, had criticised the slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. Thanathorn’s family owns the Thai Summit Group, the largest auto parts manufacturer in Thailand.
The complaint against Thanathorn was filed under Article 112 of the criminal code, which details Thailand’s harsh royal defamation (lèse-majesté) laws. Anyone convicted of insulting, defaming, or threatening the King, Queen, or heir can face up to 15 years in prison. Two days before, Thanathorn’s new Progressive Movement organised a Facebook Live event titled “Royal Vaccine: Who Benefits and Who Doesn’t?” He criticised the national vaccine rollout and said the government was too reliant on Siam Bioscience, a company owned by the Crown Property Bureau that “lacked vaccine-making experience.” He also wondered whether the government gave Siam Bioscience preferential treatment in getting the vaccine contract because of its proximity to the Crown Property Bureau.
The Crown Property Bureau manages the property of the Thai Monarchy. However, King Vajiralongkorn managed to gain direct control of the Bureau’s over $30 billion asset portfolio after his father’s death in 2016. A minister in Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s office told the media that “Thanathorn distorted facts and caused misunderstanding among people. He violated the monarchy, which upset Thai people who love and protect the monarchy.”
However, Charles Santiago, Chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ Parliamentarians for Human Rights, sees the complaint as a way to silence criticism of the Thai government, calling the legal move “yet another illustration of the cynical weaponisation of the lèse-majesté law to stifle any form of criticism.”
Thanathorn has stated he intended no insult toward the monarchy. “The more you discredit or harass me with legal cases, the clearer my suspicions become,” Thanathorn said in a Facebook post following the government’s decision.
Thanathorn was banned from politics for 10 years after a court ruled last year to dissolve the party he founded.
The case of Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit isn’t the only high-profile lèse-majesté case coming out of Thailand this week. On Tuesday, a court handed down a 43-year sentence to former government employee Anchan Preelert, who was accused of insulting the Royal Family by uploading anti-monarchy audio recordings on YouTube and Facebook in 2014 and 2015. Anchan’s conviction was the country’s harshest ever sentence for insulting the monarchy.