Thai activist: govt trying to silence me

Banned activist Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit says royal-defamation charge is meant to silence him.
Banned activist Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit says royal-defamation charge is meant to silence him.

A banned Thai opposition politician, who is facing a criminal complaint of defaming the monarchy, has defended his criticism of the government's coronavirus vaccine strategy that relies on a company owned by the king.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit this week accused the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha of mishandling the vaccine campaign, saying it was too reliant on Siam Bioscience and will be slow to protect the public.

The Thai company is owned by the Crown Property Bureau, an organisation that manages the equivalent of tens of billions of dollars in investment under the King Maha Vajiralongkorn's personal control.

Siam Bioscience agreed in October to manufacture AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine and supply it domestically and across Southeast Asia.

The government has ordered 61 million doses of the vaccine for its population, as well as two million doses of a vaccine made by China's Sinovac.

Thanathorn had alleged the AstraZeneca deal lacked transparency and Siam Bioscience was given an unfair advantage over other companies.

He said the government, by relying mostly on AstraZeneca instead of negotiating multiple deals, has slowed the rollout of vaccines for Thais to June, while other countries have already begun to vaccinate their populations.

AstraZeneca and Siam Bioscience declined to comment on Thanathorn's allegations.

The government has defended its policy and on Wednesday filed a criminal complaint against Thanathorn for his criticism, accusing him of royal insult under article 112 of the criminal code that is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

"The deals were not negotiated independently of each other," Thanathorn told a news conference, during which he said the prime minister was using article 112 to silence him.

"There was no selection process or comparison so questions must be raised."

A government spokeswoman, Ratchada Dhanadirek, has denied the prosecution was politically motivated.

Thanathorn was banned from politics for 10 years last year after a court dissolved his Future Forward Party over what it said were illegal loans.

The party won significant support among younger voters in a 2019 general election, coming third, with a campaign that focused on opposition to military influence over politics.

Australian Associated Press