BANGKOK — The commander of the Thai Army has charged former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra with lese majeste for allegedly defaming the monarchy in a recent interview with a foreign news agency.
Gen. Udomdet Sitabutr assigned an officer from the staff judge advocate corps to file the charge on his behalf yesterday, said one of his aides, Gen. Chatchalerm Chalermsuk.
Then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (center) presides over a parliamentary session at the House of Parliament in Bangkok, 24 March 2005.
Although Gen. Chatchalerm did not specify which of Thaksin’s comments were deemed libelous, it is believed the charge was filed over an interview Thaksin gave to Chosun Media while he was in South Korea on 22 May 2015.
In the interview, Thaksin said the military was helped by ‘traditional elites’ when it staged a coup d'etat against the government led by his sister on 22 May 2014.
Due to the severe application of Thailand’s lese majeste law, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison for insulting the monarchy, Khaosod English is unable to publish Thakin’s comments in full.
The controversial interview also spurred Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to revoke Thaksin’s passports on 27 May.
Although Thaksin has lived in self-imposed exile since 2008, when a Thai court convicted him of corruption, he has continued to command significant influence from abroad as the unofficial leader of the Pheu Thai party and idol of the rural-based Redshirt movement.
Royalists in Thailand have long-accused Thaksin of lacking respect for the country's revered king, and filed several lese majeste charges against the former leader. In October 2014, Watchara Petchthong, a former Democrat Party MP, filed a lese majeste charge against Thaksin for an interview he gave to an American journalist, which was later published in a book called Conversations With Thaksin.
Watchara also pressed charges against Matichon Group, Khaosod English’s parent company, for publishing a translation of the book in Thai, and against Suranand Vejjajiva, a close aide of Thaksin, for translating the text.
Speaking about the army's decision to charge Thaksin with lese majeste yesterday, Gen. Chatchalerm said the military has a "duty to protect the institutions of the Nation, Religion, and Monarchy."
"Whenever someone insults any of the institutions, we have to take action, otherwise we may be guilty of dereliction of duty."
He added, "Thai People know that if they violate the laws, they will punished. If they still do it, it means that they intend to commit the crime, and they have to accept punishment. It's like shooting someone dead. They have to answer for the crime, because they know it's illegal."
Gen. Chatchalerm then warned Thai media agencies not to report the remarks Thaksin made in the interview. He also admitted that seeking Thaksin’s extradition would be difficult.
"You have to understand that there has to be an extradition treaty, and that country must have similar laws," Gen. Chatchalerm said, "Many countries don't have kings. So they don't have this laws."
Thaksin has homes in Dubai, Hong Kong, and London, and is a citizen and passport-holder of Montenegro.
Described by many historians as a staunch ally of the monarchy, the Thai army has previously filed several lese majeste charges against members of the public.
In 2008, the army pressed a lese majeste charge against Daranee Charnchoensilpakul, a pro-Thaksin activist, after she made speeches that were deemed critical of the monarchy. The court later found Daranee guilty and sentenced her to 15 years in prison.
The army also filed lese majeste against Somsak Jiamteerasakul, historian and prominent critic of the monarchy, in April 2011 for writing an open letter to Princess Chulabhorn, the King's youngest daughter. Somsak fled the country after the military staged a coup d'etat on 22 May 2014 and has been living in exile in Europe.