Three jailed as part of Thai lese majeste probe

Thai fortune teller Suriyan Sucharitpholwong (centre) arriving at a military court in Bangkok yesterday.
Thai fortune teller Suriyan Sucharitpholwong (centre) arriving at a military court in Bangkok yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BANGKOK • A Thai military court yesterday jailed three people, including an aide to the crown prince, as part of a major probe into a group which allegedly falsely claimed links to the monarchy.

Thailand's lese majeste laws are the world's harshest and make it a crime to defame, insult or threaten the royal family. Anyone convicted of insulting the royals faces up to 15 years in prison for each offence.

The investigation comes at a time when the government is cracking down on perceived royal defamation, with prosecutions rocketing since a May 2014 coup.

It also comes at a time of heightened anxiety over the health of 87-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who is convalescing at a Bangkok hospital after being treated for "water on the brain", adding to the political uncertainty shrouding Thailand since the coup.

"There were references to the high institution... so we brought these three in order to jail them," assistant national police chief Srivara Rangsibrahmanakul said, adding: "There might be others involved in this case, and if there are, we will proceed with a case against them."

The term "high institution" is often used by Thais to refer to the country's monarchy.

Reports said one of the three charged under the legislation is famous fortune teller Suriyan Sucharitpholwong, 53, who is an aide to Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. The two others are Suriyan's assistant and police major Prakrom Warunprapa. Suriyan pleaded guilty. The two others pleaded not guilty, Reuters reported.

Since taking power in 2014, the junta has vowed to aggressively pursue and prosecute violators of the law, including those who live abroad. Military courts, which since the coup have heard many lese majeste cases, have handed down record-breaking sentences.

The probe follows a high-profile corruption investigation late last year involving the police, military and several family members of Srirasmi Suwadee, the former wife of Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn. Srirasmi, formerly known as Princess Srirasmi, relinquished her royal title at the height of that probe.

Critics of the law say it is used to pursue political opponents of Thailand's military and royalist elite.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2015, with the headline 'Three jailed as part of Thai lese majeste probe'. Print Edition | Subscribe