BANGKOK (AP) — Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is serving a prison sentence after being convicted of wrongdoing in office, but he shouldn’t be called an inmate, the country’s Correction Department declared Tuesday.
The agency felt it necessary to explain that it is not being deferential to the controversial former leader when it refers to him in public without using the term.
The department said its standard practice is not to call prisoners “inmates” in its public statements to avoid stigmatizing them. It said the term is only used internally among its officials.
It was responding to critics who charge that Thaksin, a billionaire populist and unofficial patron of the political party that returned to power last year, is being given special treatment while he serves his sentence in a private room in a state hospital instead of in a prison cell.
Thaksin, 74, was ousted in a 2006 military coup after being accused of corruption, abuse of power, and disrespecting the monarchy. He fled into exile in 2008 ahead of a trial on corruption charges, declaring that he was being prosecuted for political reasons.
He returned to Thailand last year, and after being welcomed by supporters at Bangkok’s airport was taken immediately to prison to begin serving an eight-year term for a series of convictions.
Less than a day later, he was transferred from prison to the Police General Hospital. Corrections Department officials said he had high blood pressure and low oxygen, suffered from insomnia, and felt tightness in his chest, and that doctors recommended he be transferred to avoid life-threatening risks.
His return to Thailand came the same day that the Pheu Thai party — the latest incarnation of the party that he originally led to power in 2001, and for which he is considered the de facto leader — won a parliamentary vote to form a new government. The previous government was heavily influenced by the military, which continued its hostility to Thaksin and his allies long after ousting him in 2006.
About a week after Thaksin’s return, King Maha Vajiralongkorn reduced his eight-year sentence to a single year. He will be able to apply for parole after serving one-third of his amended sentence, or four months.
Thaksin was a police lieutenant colonel before becoming a successful telecoms entrepreneur. The Corrections Department and the hospital have declined to reveal in detail what Thaksin is being treated for, citing his right to privacy, although officials have said he has undergone surgery twice.
His daughter, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, who now heads the Pheu Thai party and is seen as the heir apparent to his political ambitions, has said he suffered complications after contracting the coronavirus in 2020, and that she is most worried about a heart condition.