Royal critics have been rounded up ahead of the expected coronation next month of Maha Vajiralongkorn, the crown prince © Reuters
Thailand targets royal critics ahead of coronation
Authorities launch flurry of cases at home and abroad after death of King Bhumibol
by: FT Reporters
Thailand’s military rulers are redoubling their crackdown on alleged insults to the monarchy, stoking fears among some Thais that political debate will be stifled after the succession to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
The generals have pressed technology companies to censor royally related content, rounded up domestic critics of the monarchy and even sought the extradition of some based overseas ahead of the expected coronation next month of Maha Vajiralongkorn, crown prince and heir apparent.
The junta has been using lese-majesty laws, which carry jail sentences of up to 15 years per offence, since seizing power in May 2014.
But moves since King Bhumibol died on October 13 have added urgency because the crown prince has yet to build the popular following won by his father during a seven-decade reign. At least 25 people have been accused of lese-majesty since the king’s death, authorities say, adding to scores of existing cases.
Paul Chambers, research director at the Thailand-based Institute of South East Asian Affairs, said the round-up had become a “shadowy witch-hunt” by authorities eager to prove loyalty to the new monarch.
“With such arrests, 2017 beckons as Thailand’s year of living dangerously,” he said.
The government is also seeking the extradition of critics of the monarchy based in seven unnamed countries — although legal experts note that this is likely to be futile if the nations concerned have safeguards against political persecution.
Meanwhile, companies including Google and Line — the most popular chat app in Thailand — have been pressed into monitoring alleged lese-majesty content.
Google said it was applying its standard worldwide policy of blocking material in specific territories if a “thorough review” supports government allegations that postings are illegal under national law. Line did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The junta’s lese-majesty offensive has provoked a backlash in some quarters in Thailand. An editorial in the Nation newspaper this week condemned it as likely to provoke “mockery” of the country from a world “looking on with sympathy over our loss”.
“The military-led government’s insistence on hunting down fugitives suspected of lese-majesty will bring nothing good for the kingdom, but seems more likely, in fact, to damage the monarchy,” it said.
However, the Thai foreign ministry on Thursday defended the official position on lese-majesty and attacked unnamed foreign media for publishing “speculations and gossip spliced together for the sake of drama and conspiracy theories”.
The crackdown has added unsettling undercurrents to the otherwise dignified first phase of the year-long national mourning for King Bhumibol. Sporadic incidents have been reported of mobs humiliating people accused of lese-majesty.
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