Embattled former Thai PM Thaksin faces new legal challenge

Thaksin Shinawatra defamed the monarchy during a 2015 interview in South Korea, attorney general alleges.
BenarNews staff
Embattled former Thai PM Thaksin faces new legal challenge Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (center), joined by his son, Phantongtae, and his daughter, Pinthongta, arrives at Don Muang airport in Bangkok, Aug. 22, 2023.
Sakchai Lalit/AP

Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra – who managed to wiggle out of an eight-year prison sentence after returning from a 16-year self-exile – is facing a new legal challenge over alleged insults against the monarchy uttered nine years ago.

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) announced Wednesday that it issued an order to file a lèse-majesté charge against Thaksin over a 2015 interview in South Korea during which he allegedly made critical comments about the monarchy during the reign of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died a year later. 

The court in Bangkok delayed the hearing until June 18 after defense lawyers said that Thaksin, 74, and apparently in ill health already, was suffering from COVID-19. 

Thailand’s new government, which took power last September, is a coalition headed by Thaksin’s Pheu Thai party and includes partners with ties to the old junta.

“This postponement does not affect the fairness of the proceedings or the attorney general’s opinion,” said Prayuth Petchkhun, spokesman for the Office of the Attorney General.

The spokesman said the attorney general had sufficient evidence to prosecute, but said he could not disclose details about the case.

In 2015, Thai website Khaosod English published a report on Thaksin’s statement to the South Korean website Chosun Media – while noting it had been edited to comply with lèse-majesté, Thailand’s strict law that guards against royal defamation.

“Speaking in Thai above Korean subtitles, Thaksin alleged that traditional elites helped engineer the anti-government protests that culminated in the coup that overthrew his sister’s government twelve months ago,” the Khaosod report said.

Thaksin went on to say that when authorities wanted to remove him and his sister, Yingluck, from office, the military assisted an anti-government leader, identified as Suthep Thaugsuban, during months of protests.

He said the military takeover against Yingluck had “played out like what I had been through.” 

Thaksin fled Thailand after a 2006 military coup toppled his government – his sister suffered a similar fate in May 2014. While Thaksin returned home in August 2023, Yingluck still lives in exile. 

On Feb. 16, 2016, the attorney general accepted the case against Thaksin on a charge of violating Article 112 of the Criminal Code and the Computer Crimes Act. The article is also known as lèse-majesté. 

Efforts to try Thaksin resumed following his return to Thailand.

On Wednesday, spokesman Prayuth said Thaksin’s lawyers had presented a medical certificate and asked to reschedule the hearing until June 25. Prosecutors instead scheduled the hearing for one week earlier, June 18, but have not determined if they would challenge his bail request.

“Opposing bail has its principles, such as whether the defendant will interfere with evidence, flee, or cause harm to the justice system. These are the issues that need to be considered,” Prayuth said. 

Meanwhile, defense lawyer Winyat Chatmontree told reporters that Thaksin was running a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit) and was being treated at home. 

“We believe that Thaksin is ready to prove himself and his innocence in the judicial process. There are several issues we are contesting, such as the video clip used as evidence. We believe it is not the original clip and we have scientific evidence to support that it has been edited,” Winyat said.

Nakane Thongpraiwan, an attorney general’s office deputy spokesman, said Thaksin would face repercussions if he failed to show up in court on June 18. 

“If on that day, Thaksin still does not appear and there is no notification of any impediment, the prosecutors will proceed with the next steps by issuing a letter to the police or investigating officers to bring the suspect to court within a specified timeframe,” Nakane said. 

2023 return

Thaksin returned to Thailand on Aug. 22, 2023, the same day that MPs elected Srettha Thavisin as the new prime minister. Srettha succeeded Prayuth Chan-o-cha, the former army chief who served as prime minister after leading the military coup to oust Yingluck in 2014. 

Taken into custody by police following his arrival, Thaksin never spent a full night in prison because the Department of Corrections transferred him to a hospital for medical treatment.

Soon after his return, Thaksin was sentenced to eight years in prison but he received a royal pardon from King Rama X that reduced his sentence to one year. The sentence was related to three corruption cases during Thaksin’s tenure as prime minister. 

He was released from the hospital in February before serving a full year and subsequently began meeting with supporters and close political figures. 

Aware of the outstanding lèse-majesté charge, which carries a potential 15-year sentence, Thaksin’s lawyers submitted a petition requesting his temporary release during a potential trial because he was not able to gather evidence for the case while abroad. On Feb. 19, prosecutors allowed him to be released on bail after he posted a 500,000 baht (U.S. $13,586) bond. 

‘Big boss’

Thanaporn Sriyakul, chairman of the Political Science Association at Kasetsart University, said he expected Thaksin’s legal team to launch a strong challenge.

“As for why the ‘big boss’ (Thaksin) is facing charges under Article 112, I won’t delve into the case details, but the prosecutors have likely considered the legal elements and determined that they meet the criteria,” he told BenarNews. 

“Regarding the outcome of the case, without seeing the details of the indictment, it’s not possible to make a definitive statement as it would be speculation – however, the ‘big boss’ himself will likely fight the case to the fullest extent and seek bail.” 

Thanaporn said it appeared that Thaksin’s recent political activities were aimed at helping his younger sister, Yingluck, return to Thailand.

“What the ‘big boss’ has been trying to do recently is to keep the Pheu Thai Party in the most advantageous position and continue to exercise power. His mission is to prevent the orange (Move Forward) party from succeeding because if he doesn’t do anything, his sister won’t be able to come home,” Thanaporn said. 

Advocacy group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said that more than 270 people were facing charges under Article 112 – last week, a lawmaker from the opposition Move Forward Party and a pop star-turned-activist were sentenced for violating lèse-majesté.

Earlier this month, a 28-year-old activist who had been on a hunger strike after being charged with violating the law died while in custody at the Medical Correctional Hospital.


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