BANGKOK — A hardline royalist group leader on Thursday filed yet another royal defamation complaint against opposition politician Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit for questioning transparency in the COVID-19 vaccine program.
The complaints were lodged by Thai Phakdee group founder Warong Dechgitvigrom at Nang Loeng Police Station. Warong said Thanathorn was dragging the monarchy into his criticism of the vaccine deals between Thailand and British pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca – an allegation denied by Thanathorn.
“He was trying to manipulate the facts,” Warong said by phone. “Don’t forget that this is a deal between AstraZeneca and the government. But he [Thanathorn] tries to link it to the monarchy.”
In the complaint filed to the police, Warong accused Thanathorn of violating Article 112 of the Criminal Codes, which ban any insults or threats made toward the Royal Family, in his speeches about Siam Bioscience, a company wholly owned by the Crown Property Bureau.
Thanathorn has repeatedly questioned why the government chose Siam Bioscience to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines developed by AstraZeneca, a process that would take months to complete, instead of directly importing the doses from overseas.
“Actually, the public has known for a long time that what Mr. Thanathorn is doing is to infringe on the monarchy and mislead the people,” Warong told reporters in front of the police station. “His behavior resulted in insults, slanders, and threats toward the monarchy.”
It was the latest legal action to be taken against Thanathorn for his vaccine criticism. In January, representatives of PM Prayut Chan-o-cha also filed a royal defamation complaint against the politician.
Warong presented two pieces of evidence to the police today: Thanathorn’s Facebook Live speeches about Siam Bioscience on Jan. 18, and a brief interview he gave to Al Jazeera news agency on Jan. 30.
Thanathorn insisted he is innocent, however.
“The use of Article 112 against me is the evidence that Prayut times and again uses the monarchy to conceal his failures, and in this case the failure of vaccine strategy,” Thanathorn said in online messages. “To simply put it; vaccine too little too late.”
The politician was at the court today to contest a court order to remove his speech on Siam Bioscience’s ties to the monarchy from his Facebook; Thanathorn insisted he was merely stating facts.
In the interview with Al Jazeera, which was aired five days ago, Thanathorn said: “Our question is whether this scheme gives too much benefit to one company or not. You have legal immunity because the king is the head of the state.”
“But as a vendor to the government’s contract he is the shareholder of the company and if things go wrong, the government cannot sue the owner of the company.”
In a related development, the Thai Phakdee Group said it has collected 40,000 signatures to oppose a move by the Move Forward Party – a political ally of Thanathorn – to push for an amendment of the lese majeste law.
Warong said on the phone that he will wait until the group collects 100,000 signatures before submitting it to House Speaker Chuan Leekpai.
“I think it will take several more days,” he said.
Move Forward MP Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn said the party’s bid to amend the lese majeste law is constitutional and will go ahead as planned, possibly as soon as the end of the month.
“I’d like to affirm that the Move Forward Party’s proceedings are perfectly in accordance with the Constitution,” Wiroj said by phone Thursday. “Article 112 is causing a mass delusion of hatred. This is not good for the monarchy at all.”
Wiroj also said on Tuesday that his party has assigned a lawyer to investigate whether there’s sufficient grounds to launch a libel lawsuit against Warong for his remarks.
Thanathorn said he supports the bid to amend the royal insult charge.
“Article 112 in its current form must either [be] abolished or amended. I trust my friends, the Move Forward Party MPs,” the tycoon-turned-politician said.
“This [law] clearly violates human rights principle, namely freedom of speech,” he continued. “When the bill is proposed to the parliament, I would like to sincerely ask Thai people to help promote this bill and help support it.”