Former Thailand PM Thaksin Shinawatra to go on trial for royal insult

Last Updated on May 29, 2024 3:26 pm

Thailand’s former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who returned home last year after 15 years in exile, will go on trial next month on charges of insulting the monarchy.

Prayuth Pecharakun, a spokesman for Thailand’s attorney general, said 74-year-old Thaksin would be summoned to appear in court on June 18 to answer charges under Thailand’s lese-majeste law, one of the strictest in the world. He also faces charges of violating the Computer Crime Act.

Thaksin, a prominent telecommunications tycoon, was first elected prime minister in 2001, but removed five years later in a military coup amid mass protests from the urban middle class and disquiet over his policies among the pro-royalist, pro-military elite. His populist political movement continued to win elections even after Thaksin went into exile, but was brought down in coups or court rulings amid relentless political upheaval.

The latest allegations were made by the generals who seized power from Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, in 2014 and relate to an interview he gave to South Korean media the following year.

“The attorney general has decided to indict Thaksin for insulting the monarchy,” Prayuth told reporters.

Thaksin returned to Thailand last August after the Pheu Thai party headed by his daughter took power as part of a coalition formed after establishment-aligned senators blocked the election-winning Move Forward Party, which campaigned on reforms to the military and the monarchy, from forming a government.

Protesters, activists, politicians and political parties have all fallen foul of Thailand’s royal defamation laws, which protect King Maha Vajiralongkorn and his close family and have been used more widely since 2020 when young people began protests demanding unprecedented reform to the monarchy. Each charge carries a potential 15-year prison sentence.

Thaksin’s lawyer, Winyat Chatmontree, said the billionaire would fight the charges.

“He is ready to prove his innocence in the justice system,” Winyat told reporters.

Critics say the law has been abused to stifle legitimate political debate.

More than 270 people have been charged with lese-majeste since the protests began, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.

Thaksin’s return to Thailand, on the very day Pheu Thai’s Srettha Thavisin became prime minister in alliance with a group of pro-military parties, led many to conclude a deal had been done to cut his jail time on corruption-related charges.

The king later reduced Thaksin’s sentence from eight years to one, and he was freed on parole in February having spent most of his six months in detention in hospital.

Thaksin insists he has retired, but has made numerous public appearances since his release. He has repeatedly pledged his loyalty to the crown.

The Move Forward Party is also facing court action over its commitment to amend the lese-majeste law with the Constitutional Court due to decide whether to dissolve the party.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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