Two senior Thai police face royal insult charge as cases mount

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Two senior Thai policemen face royal insult charges, a national police spokesman said on Sunday, and warrants have been issued for their arrest, the latest in a mounting number of lese-majeste cases following a coup in May.

Thailand's lese-majeste law is the world's harshest and makes it a crime to defame, insult or threaten the king, queen or heir to the throne or regent.

Those who are convicted face up to 15 years in jail.

Police spokesman Police Lieutenant General Prawut Thavornsiri named the officers as Police Lieutenant General Pongpat Chayaphan, commissioner of the Central Investigation Bureau, and his deputy Police Major General Kowit Wongrungroj.

"Pongpat and Kowit have been charged with violating the lese-majeste law on top of other (criminal) charges," Prawut told Reuters, giving no further details.

Citing media reports, Bangkok Post said on Sunday Pol Lt Gen Pongpat and Pol Maj Gen Kowit are charged with lese majeste, bribery, abuse of power and money-laundering violations.

Thailand's army seized power on May 22 saying it needed to restore order after months of street protests that helped overthrow an elected government. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the former army chief who led the coup and was appointed prime minister in August, is a self-proclaimed royalist and has vowed to root out critics of the monarchy.

Years of political strife between the Bangkok-based establishment and former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by the army in 2006, centres partly around anxiety over the issue of royal succession.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 86, is seen as a unifying figure in Thailand and his health is a matter of public concern. His son and presumed heir, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, does not command his father's popular support.

Bhumibol was admitted to Bangkok's Siriraj hospital last month with an inflammation of his gallbladder, which was removed through surgery. On Friday the palace said doctors had advised the king to cancel a planned meeting with two government ministers, something that has raised concern over the state of his health.