Thai lese majeste offenders list grows

MONARCHY DAMAGED: These people made others wrongly believe that they were close to the monarchy... Their actions caused damage to the royal institution. - GENERAL JAKTHIP CHAIJINDA (above), with a confiscated gun.
MONARCHY DAMAGED: These people made others wrongly believe that they were close to the monarchy... Their actions caused damage to the royal institution. - GENERAL JAKTHIP CHAIJINDA (above), with a confiscated gun.PHOTO: REUTERS
Fortune teller Suriyan Sujaritpolwong, a key organiser of a mass cycling event in August led by the heir to the throne, was among those who were arrested.
Fortune teller Suriyan Sujaritpolwong, a key organiser of a mass cycling event in August led by the heir to the throne, was among those who were arrested.

Authorities bent on hunting down those who insult the monarchy as royal transition nears

Thai police laid out an array of weapons, communications equipment, expensive electric guitars, jewellery, and what looked like an ivory figurine, at a packed press conference yesterday, saying they were recovered from three suspects arrested last week and charged with lese majeste or insulting the monarchy.

Thailand's Article 112 - the harshest such law in the world - states that "whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, queen, heir-apparent, or regent shall be punished with imprisonment of three to 15 years".

The military regime has made hunting down and prosecuting people deemed to be critical of the monarchy or defaming it one of its top priorities as Thailand nears a royal transition, with the revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 87, growing frail, and still in a hospital.

"These people made others wrongly believe that they were close to the monarchy... Their actions caused damage to the royal institution," police chief Jakthip Chaijinda told reporters.

One of the suspects, Major Prakrom Warunprapa, a police officer, was found hanging in his cell last Friday and was rushed to hospital, where he was pronounced dead. He allegedly hanged himself using his shirt.

But nobody asked about the incident at the press conference, and General Jakthip did not volunteer any information on the matter.

The others arrested were fortune teller Suriyan "Mor Yong" Sujaritpolwong, and his secretary Jirawong Wattanathewasilp.

Mr Suriyan was a key organiser of a mass cycling event in August led by the heir to the throne, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, in honour of his mother Queen Sirikit.

He was similarly involved in a follow-up ride to be held in December in honour of King Bhumibol.

The arrests are part of the second high-profile purge of top police figures since late last year, when ironically, Major Prakrom was assigned to a unit tasked with monitoring the Internet for lese majeste content.

He also played a role in investigating Lieutenant-General Pongpat Chayapan, uncle of the Crown Prince's then wife Srirasmi, who was disgraced when her family was revealed to have amassed millions by trading off their royal connection. The Crown Prince divorced her in December last year. Her uncle, parents and three brothers are now in jail.

Police said Major Prakrom took some of the millions of dollars worth of assets confiscated from Lt-Gen Pongpat for himself.

He was also found to have millions of baht worth of assets, including several cars - among them a Bentley and a Rolls Royce - and multiple apartments. On the table at the press briefing were at least 20 automatic rifles and handguns.

The fortune teller is accused of taking kickbacks of up to 10 million baht (S$393,000) raised in the name of the "Bike for Mum" event, and hiding the money.

Police were investigating the money trail, Gen Jakthip said, suggesting more arrests were imminent. He said: "There might be more suspects but we are still waiting for the investigation results. We are waiting for the court to approve arrest warrants."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2015, with the headline 'Thai lese majeste offenders list grows'. Print Edition | Subscribe