Former Thai PM Thaksin Formally Charged With Royal Defamation

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Former Thai PM Thaksin Formally Charged With Royal Defamation

The case against the 74-year-old suggests that there are limits to the political compact that allowed his return from self-exile last year.

Former Thai PM Thaksin Formally Charged With Royal Defamation

A supporter takes a selfie with former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, center, at Rajapruek Royal Park in Chiang Mai province, Thailand, Thursday, March 14, 2024.

Credit: AP Photo/Anuthep Cheysakron

Thailand’s influential former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has been formally indicted for allegedly insulting the monarchy in a 2015 media interview, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office said.

The 74-year-old former leader reported himself to prosecutors just before 9 a.m. this morning and the indictment process had been completed, Prayuth Bejraguna, a spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General, said at a news conference. “The prosecutor has sent the suspect to court,” Prayuth added.

During a subsequent hearing at the Thai Criminal Court, judges granted Thaksin bail of 500,000 baht ($13,590), a privilege granted to very few lese-majeste defendants, including Netiporn Sanesangkhom, a monarchy reform activist who died in custody last month after a hunger strike protesting the incarceration of she and other peaceful activists. The Court scheduled the next court date on August 19 and said that Thaksin is not allowed to leave the country without permission.

The lese-majeste complaint was filed by royalist activists in 2016, in connection with an interview that Thaksin gave the year before to South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper. During the interview, he alleged that the Privy Council had backed the May 2014 coup which ousted his sister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government.

Perceived 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.

By coincidence or design, the case against Thaksin is the first of four high-profile political cases that are set to be heard today, which could again destabilize Thai politics and kick off a new period of political acrimony.

One involves a complaint lodged by a group of senators in the Constitutional Court that could potentially see Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin dismissed from office for appointing a lawyer and former Thaksin associate with a past conviction to his cabinet. The Court will also hear a complaint by the Election Commission, requesting the dissolution of the opposition Move Forward Party, the largest party in the Thai parliament, over its campaign to amend the lese-majeste law. The fourth case to be heard by the Constitutional Court, will address whether the drawn-out Senate election process, which started earlier this month and is scheduled to conclude in early July, is lawful.

Thaksin, who was overthrown in a coup in 2006, fled the country two years later to avoid charges related to corruption and abuse of power. He returned to Thailand last year and was immediately taken into custody to serve his sentence, but ended up serving the entirety of his sentence in a prison hospital on medical grounds. After the rapid reduction in his sentence, Thaksin was granted release on parole in February.

Thaksin’s return was enabled by a political pact between his camp and its longstanding rivals in the conservative establishment, which also saw Thaksin’s Pheu Thai party form a government with conservative and military-backed parties. Since returning, however, Thaksin has appeared to flaunt his newfound freedom, traveling across the country, meeting with local politicians, and even offering his services as a mediator of the conflict next door in Myanmar.

As I noted late last month, the fact that the attorney general’s office has decided to press ahead with the lese-majeste case says less about the merits of the case than the current bearing of the political winds – and the fact that there are limits to the grand political compact that has led to Thaksin’s political rehabilitation. Whatever the lese-majeste case goes after its next hearing in August, it is clear that the conservative establishment has been affronted by Thaksin’s rapid return to political life and is sending the message that he should limit his ambitions.