Detained Former Thai PM Could Face Royal Defamation Charge, Official Says

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Detained Former Thai PM Could Face Royal Defamation Charge, Official Says

Thaksin Shinawatra has been informed about a lese-majeste complaint claiming that he insulted the monarchy in a 2015 interview in South Korea.

Detained Former Thai PM Could Face Royal Defamation Charge, Official Says
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Thailand’s detained former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra faces a possible charge under the country’s harsh lese-majeste law, a few weeks ahead of his possible release on parole.

Prayut Phetcharakhun, a spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG), told reporters yesterday that the office is considering prosecuting the former leader on a complaint filed in 2016, the Bangkok Post reported.

The complaint concerns a 2015 interview that the popular former leader gave while in South Korea, in which he allegedly defamed the Thai monarchy, according a report by Reuters. Criticisms of the Thai monarchy are harshly punished under Article 112 of Thailand’s penal code, also known as the lese-majeste law, which carries prison sentences of up to 15 years – and which government critics claim has been routinely used to hush up dissenting voices.

The Post reported that the OAG received the case from police at the Technology Crime Suppression Division in February 2016. A warrant for the former leader’s arrest was issued in September.

Thaksin, who served as prime minister from 2001 until this ouster in a coup in 2006, made a dramatic homecoming from 15 years in self-imposed exile in August. After touching down in Bangkok, he was immediately transferred to custody to serve an eight-year prison sentence, which was subsequently reduced to one year by a royal pardon. Thaksin has spent the entire time in a police hospital due to health issues – a subject of considerable political controversy – and will become eligible for parole next month.

Prayut said that after Thaksin returned to the country, police presented the arrest warrant to the Department of Corrections and sought the detention of the 74-year-old politician in the event of his release. On January 17, public prosecutors and police informed Thaksin of the lese-majeste charge and a related computer crime charge. He has denied wrongdoing and provided authorities with “a letter requesting fairness,” Prayut added. He said that if Thaksin is freed, he could be detained by police and then released temporarily while the attorney general considers whether to press charges.

Thaksin has undergone a partial political rehabilitation since the Pheu Thai Party, which is led by his daughter Paetongtarn, joined hands with a coalition of conservative parties to form a government after last May’s general election. This took place after Pheu Thai was eclipsed by the Move Forward Party, a more progressive and threatening opposition party. This prompted military-appointed senators to block the MFP from forming government, paving the way for Pheu Thai to return to power. The party’s political pact with conservative and military-backed laid the groundwork for Thaksin’s previously unthinkable return to Thailand.

The possible lese-majeste charge threatens to derail this political rehabilitation. It is possible that despite being partly rehabilitated, there are elements of the royalist establishment that continue to distrust Thaksin – and it could hardly be otherwise, given the years that royalists spent seeking to extricate his influence from Thai politics. But the complaint is best seen as a residue of conservatives’ long legal campaign against Thaksin, and there are strong political incentives for the charges to be memory-holed.

But if the OAG chooses not to press charges, it will once again raise questions about double standards in the Thai judicial system. Over the past few years, the lese-majeste law has been used frequently against dissidents, including the leaders and participants of the youth-led protests of 2020 and 2021, which saw rare public criticisms of the monarchy’s power. Since the 2020 protests, at least 262 people have been charged under the law, according to the advocacy group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, reinforcing critics’ claims that the law has been used to silence political dissent.

The MFP now faces possible dissolution simply for advocating the reform of Article 112. If the monarchy is so sacred as to need such vigilant protection – and rare is the lese-majeste case that has been dismissed by the courts – why should Thaksin be any exception?

It is these sorts of political double standards that prompted the Thai Enquirer to argue in an editorial on Monday that Thaksin’s pardon and likely parole should be matched by a universal political amnesty for everyone imprisoned during the course of Thailand’s recent  political struggles. This should include pro-monarchy “yellow shirts,” Thaksinite “red shirts,” and protesters facing lese-majeste charges, among others.

“Granting Thaksin amnesty while ignoring others entangled in Thailand’s political conflicts would underscore the inconsistencies and perceived injustices in the Thai judicial system,” it argued. “It would reaffirm the belief that justice in Thailand is selective, applied differently based on political affiliation and influence. Such a move could further erode public trust in the institutions meant to uphold justice and democracy.”