Thaksin Shinawatra: Thailand charges former leader with royal insult


Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

In this 2016 file photo, former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra answers a question during an interview in New York.


Bangkok
CNN

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has been indicted on lise-majesty charges, authorities said Wednesday, the latest twist in a decades-long political saga in the Southeast Asian kingdom.

The case, filed by police, alleged that Thaksin violated Thailand's notorious royal insult law during a 2015 interview with South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo.

“The Attorney General has decided to indict Thaksin on all charges,” spokesman Prayuth Bejaragona told reporters on Wednesday. Thaksin is scheduled to appear at the Attorney General's office on June 18, after which he will be taken to court. The spokesman said he was unable to attend Wednesday's hearing due to a Covid-19 infection.

According to the spokesman, Thaksin has denied the allegations and has repeatedly pledged his loyalty to the monarchy.

Thaksin, who was prime minister from 2001 until ousted in a military coup in 2006, made a dramatic return to Thailand last August after 15 years in self-imposed exile. was taken into custody.

Some experts believe that Thaksin may have struck a deal with the country's powerful conservative and royalist establishment for his return – given his court convictions and the charges against him. Thaksin has denied the claim.

He was sentenced to eight years in prison for conflict of interest, abuse of power and corruption during his tenure, although his sentence was later reduced to one year. In February, the 74-year-old was released from custody after being granted parole, having served just six months in a police hospital.

Thailand has some of the strictest royal defamation laws in the world, and criticizing the king, queen or heir can lead to a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison for each offence.

Sentences for those convicted under Section 112 of Thailand's Criminal Code can last decades, and hundreds of people have been prosecuted in recent years.

Earlier this month, the death of a young Thai activist in custody before trial on lese majeste charges shocked many in the country and sparked renewed calls for justice reform.

Thaksin, the former owner of Manchester City Football Club, is the head of a famous political family that has dominated Thai politics for the past two decades and boasts two former prime ministers.

Even today, Pheu Thai – the newest party of the powerful Shinawatra clan – is in government after entering a ruling coalition with its former military rivals after the May 2023 elections. Thaksin's daughter Patongtern is the leader of the party.

Thaksin's return to Thailand reintroduces a towering and divisive figure to Thailand at a tense political time.

Since his release from detention, Thaksin has traveled the country making a series of public appearances, including in his hometown of Chiang Mai where his support is based.

During his time in power, Thaksin was extremely popular among Thailand's rural and working class but his policies were disliked by wealthy elites and conservatives who accused him of being a dangerous and corrupt populist.

During his physical absence from the country, he maintained a wide influence on Thai politics and remained at the center of the country's turbulent and often violent political scene.

Thaksin has denied that he is behind the scenes pulling the strings and insists that he returned to Thailand because he wants to enjoy his retirement and spend time with his family.

Some analysts believe that Thaksin sees himself as an “elder statesman” figure and that his old opponents in the establishment still see him as a threat.

“The allegation is politically driven, there's no other way to put it,” said Thetnan Pongsudhirak, a professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University.

“They see him as a threat. He hasn't spent a single day in jail which has caused problems because of the double standard, and he has influence over the Pheu Thai party in the government.

Thailand's Constitutional Court last week accepted a request to remove Prime Minister Saritha Thaosin over the appointment of a cabinet member, a lawyer and a close associate of Thaksin who served time in prison. .

Pachit Choenbin was jailed for six months for contempt of court in 2008 for trying to bribe Supreme Court officials in a Thaksin land case.

Thetanen said the two cases were linked, and that the lese majeste charge was a way to keep Thaksin in line.

“This is an indictment of Thaksin and a reminder of who holds the real power in Thailand,” he said.

For years, human rights organizations and free speech campaigners say that lese majeste has been used as a political weapon to silence critics of the Thai government.

And rights groups say attacks on freedom of expression in Thailand have increased since the nationwide youth-led protests of 2020, in which hundreds of thousands of young people took to the streets to demand constitutional and democratic reforms. – For the first time openly criticizing the monarchy. and publicly questioning his power and wealth.

The protests came four years after King Maha Vajiralongkorn succeeded his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who ruled for seven decades.

Despite the transition from a military-backed government to civilian leadership last year, surveillance and threats against activists and students continue, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

The legal advocacy group said that from the start of the protests in July 2020 to March 2024, at least 1,954 people have been prosecuted or charged for attending and speaking at political assemblies. Out of 286 cases, children are involved.

A push to reform lese majesty laws gained significant traction ahead of the 2023 general election, which saw the progressive Move Forward party win the most votes.

The party was eventually barred from forming a government on its reform agenda, and the Constitutional Court later ruled that Move Forward had violated the constitution by campaigning to amend the Les Majesties law and ordered it to cease all related activities. .

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