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Thailand Probing BBC Over Report on New King: Officials

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Bangkok
2016-12-07
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Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, left-middle, and other officials prostrate themselves before newly appointed King Maha Vajiralongkorn in Bangkok, Dec. 1, 2016.
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, left-middle, and other officials prostrate themselves before newly appointed King Maha Vajiralongkorn in Bangkok, Dec. 1, 2016.
Thai TV Pool/AFP

Thai authorities are investigating BBC News over a report about Thailand’s new king, officials said Wednesday with the prime minister warning foreign media organizations they could be prosecuted over violations of royal defamation laws.

The news network is being probed for a profile of King Maha Vajiralongkorn that was published by its London-based Thai-language service, BBC Thai, after he ascended the throne on Dec. 1, officials said. The BBC News website also carried the story in English on the same day.

“This case is in the process of investigation but I cannot disclose the details,” Pornchai Chalordej, who commands the police station responsible for the case, told Agence France-Presse.

The article, which has been blocked online in Thailand since it was published, drew more than 2,500 shares on Facebook. A Thai activist was arrested Saturday under the Lese-Majeste law after he allegedly shared the piece on his Facebook page.

Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa, who posted bail on Sunday, is the first person to be charged under the law after Maha Vajiralongkorn succeeded King Bhumibol Adulayadej, who died on Oct. 13 at age 88. Since a military government took power in May 2014, scores of Thais have been arrested and charged under the law for posting content online perceived as insults against members of the monarchy.

“Authorities have to pursue the matter. It is their duty to pursue anything that is against the law,” Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan told journalists on Wednesday, referring to the BBC report, according to Reuters.

Prime Minister and junta chief Prayuth Chan-o-cha also commented on the matter.

“In regard to security issues and on foreign media, as it [BBC News] has a branch office and has Thai staff, and when they break a law, they can be prosecuted. And that’s it,” Prayuth told reporters in Bangkok.

He warned members of the media to be mindful when reporting, or face the possibility of being prosecuted under the nation’s laws.

“So be careful to not infringe on other people’s privacy or causing unrest,” he said.

The authorities may consolidate a potential criminal case against BBCNews with the one against Jatupat, National Police spokesman Maj. Gen. Piyapan Pingmuang told BenarNews.

“If anyone is implicated, all of them will be charged. We don’t separate the case of him and BBC,” the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Head, the BBC’s Bangkok-based Southeast Asia correspondent, declined comment.

Earlier this week, a spokeswoman for BBCNews said it was standing by the Thai service’s profile of the new king.

“BBC Thai was established to bring impartial, independent, and accurate news to a country where the media faces restrictions, and we are confident that this article adheres to the BBC’s editorial principles. While we do not comment on individual cases, we do everything we can to ensure the safety of all our staff around the world,” Charlotte Morgan told BenarNews via email.

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