BANGKOK — A former talk show host being investigated for royal defamation and rumored to have fled the country said Tuesday night that he is abroad but will return to Thailand.
Pinyo Traisuriyathamma, who faces a charge of lese majeste for hosting a debate about the role of the monarchy on his show in March 2013, sent a message to a reporter by Line in response to an article about his whereabouts.
"I was invited by the British Embassy in Bangkok to visit the United Kingdom to prepare a documentary on the occasion of the 90th birthday of her majesty the queen,” he said. “I will duly return to Thailand when the business is done."
Pinyo would not disclose what city he was in, how long he’d been there, or a more specific timeframe for his return to Thailand.
Numerous calls to Pinyo’s mobile phone and office since Monday had gone unanswered, while Facebook messages sent to the publishing company he owns were received but went unreplied.
People close to the writer turned host declined to comment on his whereabouts, while one associate said he believed the former Thai PBS newsman had already fled.
“I can’t confirm anything, but I’d say he’s already gone,” said the source, who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the topic.
In March 2013, Pinyo invited famous historians Sulak Sivaraksa and Somsak Jeamteerasakul to debate the role of the monarchy on his talk show Tob Jote (Answering Questions).
In response, several hardline royalists filed complaints within days of the broadcast. Last month, nearly three years after the broadcast, police announced they would reopen an investigation into all three men.
Sulak is a self-identified royalist who has long called for reforms in the monarchy, while Somsak is well-known for fierce criticism of the royal institution’s role in politics. Both Sulak and Somsak spoke frankly about their views on the shows – a rare occurrence in Thailand where discussion about the monarchy is not only taboo, but often deemed illegal.
The interviews, aired during prime time on state-owned Thai PBS, were swiftly met with protests from hardline royalists, prompting Thai PBS to cancel Tob Jote.
On March 9, deputy police commander Sriwarah Rangsipramkul named host Pinyo as one of the suspects, which also include Sulak, Somsak and former Thai PBS executive Somchai Suwanban.
Authorities have aggressively pursued lese majeste offenses since the military junta seized power in May 2014.
Additional reporting Pravit Rojanaphruk
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