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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra Will Be Indicted for Royal Defamation, Prosecutors Say

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BANGKOK (AP) — Thai prosecutors said on 29 May former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra will be indicted for defaming the monarchy, three months after he was freed on parole on other charges.

Thaksin will not yet be indicted because he had filed a request to postpone his original appointment on Wednesday with proof that he has COVID-19, Prayuth Bejraguna, a spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General, said at a news conference.

The attorney general’s office scheduled a new appointment for Thaksin’s indictment on June 18, Prayuth said, adding that Thaksin will also be indicted for violating the Computer Crime Act.

The law on defaming the monarchy, an offense known as lese majeste, is punishable by three to 15 years in prison. It is controversial not only because critics consider it harsh, but also because they charge it is used for political purposes to punish government critics.

Thaksin was ousted by a military coup in 2006. His opponents then had accused him of disrespecting King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in 2016. Thaksin’s ouster set off years of struggle between his supporters and his opponents, who were generally staunch royalists. The political polarization led to unprecedented public debate about the monarchy’s role, which sharpened when student-led protests for greater democracy took the the streets in 2020.

Thaksin had been in self-imposed exile since 2008, but returned to Thailand in August last year to begin serving an eight-year sentence on charges related to corruption and abuse of power. He was released on parole in February from the hospital in Bangkok where he spent six months serving time for corruption-related offenses.

On his return, he was moved almost immediately from prison to the hospital on grounds of ill health, and about a week after that King Maha Vajiralongkorn reduced his sentence to a single year. Thaksin was granted parole because of his age — he is 74 — and ill health, leaving him free for the remainder of his one-year sentence.

Thaksin’s return was interpreted as part of a political bargain between the Pheu Thai Party, the latest in a string of parties that he has supported, and their longstanding rivals in the conservative establishment to stop the progressive Move Forward Party from forming a government after its victory in last year’s general election.

But shortly after his return, the attorney general’s office said it had revived an investigation into whether Thaksin almost nine years ago violated the law against defaming the monarch.

Thaksin was originally charged in 2016 with violating the law for remarks he made to journalists when he was in Seoul, South Korea, a year before that, but the investigation could proceed only after he was presented with the charge in person in the hospital in January, officials said. Thaksin had denied the charges and submitted a statement defending himself.

Prosecutor’s spokesperson Prayuth said there is enough evidence for the attorney general to indict Thaksin. He said the prosecutors have already prepared their statement and documents to present to the court next month.

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