Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Thailand to indict opposition leader over ‘royal vaccine’ comments

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Thailand will indict the country’s main opposition figure under its harsh lese majesty law after accusing a company owned by King Maha Vajiralongkorn of seeking to profit from the distribution of the Oxford / AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine.

The movement against Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit comes as the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha tries to silence criticism of Thailand’s billionaire monarch by opening lawsuits under the law, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, against dozens of supporters of Thailand. ‘a six-month-old democratic movement.

Thailand’s Digital Affairs Ministry said on Wednesday that the government has also asked police to indict Mr Thanathorn, who has faced multiple criminal charges since. enter politics in 2018, under the law on “computer crimes”.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Thanathorn, leader of the progressive movement, said that giving Siam Bioscience the exclusive rights to distribute the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine was “an attempt to bolster the popularity of the monarchy” and that “the vaccine was not given by the king ”.

The Thai company is 100% owned by the Crown Property Bureau, which manages the King’s estate portfolio, estimated at more than 40 billion dollars. The politician first aired the accusations in a Facebook Live presentation Monday on what he called the “royal vaccine.”

“The Prayuth government is paying for the vaccine with taxpayer dollars,” Mr Thanathorn told the FT before news broke that he would be charged.

A government spokesperson referred to the FT at remarks by Anutin Charnvirakul, Thailand’s health minister and deputy prime minister, who dismissed Mr Thanathorn’s criticism, saying: “Vaccines are a big problem in this situation. urgently and should not be viewed as a political issue.

In November, Thailand announced an agreement with AstraZeneca to license and produce 26 million doses of the drugmaker’s vaccine, which it plans to distribute by mid-year. The government said it would stock up on 61 million doses of the vaccine in all.

Under a separate agreement with the drug maker, Siam Bioscience will produce up to 200 million doses of the vaccine, most of which will be exported. Nakorn premsriThailand’s vaccine chief told FT last month that local vaccine production capacity was a matter of “national security.”

Mr Thanathorn said that while Siam Bioscience was a newcomer to the vaccine industry, “it is now becoming the biggest player” in Thailand.

Siam Bioscience declined a request for comment. Mr Thanathorn did not charge AstraZeneca with any wrongdoing.

Last year the Constitutional Court dissolved Mr Thanathorn’s former party, The future of the future, who came third in the 2019 election. The decision angered supporters and helped spark protests.

Last year his MPs, who banded together in parliament as Move Forward, surveyed taxpayer spending for the king and his royal office, including a fleet of 38 planes reserved for royal use.

The power and wealth of the Thai king has become the object of unprecedented disregard by participants in the protest movement, which debuted last July.

While Thai authorities had previously refrained from using the lese majesty law in recent years, they have opened cases against more than 50 people since November. A Thai court on Tuesday handed Anchan Preelert, a former civil servant, a sentence to over 43 for sharing anti-monarchist messages, in what human rights groups have described as a warning to protesters to curb criticism of the king.

After successfully bringing local Covid-19 infections under control last year, Thailand is trying to contain a new wave of infections This has increased public pressure on the government to deploy vaccines more quickly.

Twitter: @JohnReedwrites



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