Thai police charge ex-lawmaker with insulting monarchy in tweet

Former opposition lawmaker Piyabutr Saengkanokkul was charged over a tweet in October 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BANGKOK (BLOOMBERG) - Thai police charged a former opposition lawmaker with lese majeste - doing wrong to a majesty - on Monday (June 20) over calls to reform the country's powerful monarchy as authorities step up crackdowns on royal critics.

Piyabutr Saengkanokkul is the second former executive of the now-disbanded Future Forward Party, which came third in the 2019 general election, to be charged under the royal defamation law. Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the party's leader and a high-profile government critic, was charged under the same law last year for slamming the nation's Covid-19 vaccine strategy, which he claimed relied too much on a company owned by King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Piyabutr, who appeared before the police in Bangkok, was charged over a tweet in October last year, his lawyer Kritsadang Nutcharat said. The politician was greeted by dozens of supporters who gave him flowers and waved banners calling for the abolishment of the royal insult law, which mandates as many as 15 years in prison for each offence.

"How can the Thai society move forward when academic discussions can be prosecuted?" said Piyabutr, who has denied the charge. "We should be able to discuss the issue of monarchy reforms in a safe space, which has been my mission to establish."

Thailand's monarchy has faced increased scrutiny in recent years, with an unprecedented protest movement in 2020 calling for more transparency and accountability from the institution.

The government led by coup leader-turned-premier Prayut Chan-O-cha has defended the use of the lese-majeste law, saying that protecting the monarchy is a matter of safeguarding national security.

Royal insult charges are based on evidence and officials handle such cases carefully, police spokesman Kissana Phathanacharoen said.

More than 40 cases have been filed under the lese majeste law this year alone after Thailand's Constitutional Court ruled last year that protester demands to reform the monarchy violated a provision in the military-drafted charter that bans any move to "overthrow" the royal institution.

Last week, three social-media influencers were also charged with royal defamation over a video advertisement for e-commerce platform Lazada that royalists had said mocked members of the royal family.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.