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Questioning Thailand’s Slow Covid-19 Vaccine Campaign Can Mean Prison

In their latest judicial action, authorities have charged Thanathorn Jungroongruangkit with royal defamation

Siam BioScience in Pathum Thani, wholly owned by the Crown Property Bureau, will locally manufacture the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine.
Siam BioScience in Pathum Thani, wholly owned by the Crown Property Bureau, will locally manufacture the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine.

Questioning Thailand’s delayed and opaque strategy to vaccinate the public against the coronavirus apparently now can land you in jail for decades for supposedly defaming the monarchy.

Continuing their crusade against prominent pro-democracy campaigner Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, Thailand’s former coup leaders have charged the charismatic activist with royal defamation over his comments regarding a royally sponsored vaccination project.

Thanathorn, founder of the now defunct Future Forward Party, raised questions on Facebook this week about Siam BioScience Group, which was established under the Crown Property Bureau and has given the sole go-ahead by the government to manufacture and distribute the AstraZeneca vaccine developed in the U.K..

In response, Suporn Atthawong, a minister in Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s office, accused Thanathorn of defaming the monarchy and has filed a defamation suit with police.

“He violated the monarchy, which upset Thai people who love and protect the monarchy,” Suporn said.

If convicted, Thanathorn could face years in prison as royal defamation is a crime punishable with up to 15 years in jail. Any conviction carries a minimum of three years in prison.

Prayut, a former army chief who seized power in a coup in May 2014, has likewise warned the outspoken opposition politician of legal implications for questioning the integrity of the government-sponsored and palace-allied vaccination project.

“Everything he said was misinformation. No facts at all,” Prayut said. “I will have anyone who disseminates misinformation prosecuted.”

Thanathorn, who is already facing other criminal charges such as sedition over his political activism, appears to have remained untroubled by the threat.

“The more you try to discredit me or harass me with charges, the more it makes you look suspicious,” the politician, 42, said in a Facebook post.

“Why does the state have to go to these lengths to defend a private company?” he added.

Despite enjoying widespread popularity and gathering more than 6 million votes in parliamentary elections in 2019, Thanathorn’s then newly launched Future Forward Party was soon disbanded last February by Thailand’s highest court on a legal technicality.

“Everything he said was misinformation. No facts at all,” Prayut said. “I will have anyone who disseminates misinformation prosecuted.”

Thanathorn himself has been banned from politics for 10 years along with several other leaders of the party.

The party’s disbandment served as a rallying cry for young pro-democracy activists who began staging anti-government mass rallies throughout last year in Bangkok and elsewhere.

The authorities have countered the protesters’ demands by prohibiting rallies and charging dozens of young pro-democracy activists with serious crimes such as sedition and royal defamation.

Rights activists have denounced the government for its continued crackdown on pro-democracy voices.

The longer, original version of this story first appeared in UCA News, a Bangkok Herald partner.