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Friday, July 19, 2024

Thailand: Timeline of Thaksin Shinawatra’s lese majeste case

Thaksin Shinawatra faces a lese majeste charge stemming from a 2015 interview, but pundits say it’s all part of a deal made for his return.

Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has another big problem on his hands after learning he will be indicted for lese majeste, which is penalised by up to 15 years in jail.

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) announced on Wednesday that the ex-premier will be charged with breaching Article 112 of the Penal Code, or the royal defamation law, and computer crime, for comments he made in an interview with South Korean media in 2015.

Here’s a timeline of the case:

May 2015: Thaksin, whose administration was ousted in the 2006 military coup, gives an interview to Chosun Media in 2015 after attending the 6th Asian Leadership Conference in Seoul.

The ex-premier alleges that the Privy Council was involved in the 2014 coup that overthrew the government of his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra. Thaksin claims that the council, which serves as the advisory body to the monarchy, ordered the Army to stage a coup.

In response, General Udomdej Sitabutr, a member of the National Council for Peace and Order junta, asks the Technology Crime Suppression Division to file a legal case against Thaksin.
September 2016: The OAG charges Thaksin with breaching Article 112 and the Computer Crime Act. The latter prohibits the entry of false data into a computer system that is likely to cause damage to the country’s security or public safety.

The statute of limitations on the case is 15 years, ending in 2030. An arrest warrant is issued. Thaksin is living in Dubai, which does not have an extradition treaty with Thailand.
October 2017: Thaksin’s lawyer, Chokechai Angkaew, asks the OAG to reconsider the charges.

“Former PM Thaksin reiterates that he has been loyal to the monarch. In the interview in question, not a single word alluded to the monarch. The legal action may stem from political pressure and is not justified. The investigation may not be thorough enough,” Chokechai said.

August 2023: After 15 years in self-exile, the ex-premier makes a surprise comeback to Thailand on August 22 – the day on which real estate tycoon Srettha Thavisin takes office as prime minister in a government headed by the Shinawatra-controlled Pheu Thai Party.

Thaksin’s first action on Thai soil is to prostrate before HM the King’s portrait at Don Mueang Airport.

The Supreme Court orders him to serve eight years in prison for corruption and abuse of power during his tenure. The sentence is reduced to one year by royal pardon. Announcing the pardon, the Royal Gazette says: “Thaksin made contributions to the country when he governed as prime minister, and he is loyal to the monarchy.”

Thaksin complains of health problems and is transferred to the Police General Hospital on the day of his return to Thailand.

January 2024: Police visit Thaksin in hospital to inform him of the lese-majeste and computer crime charges. The 74-year-old ex-PM denies the charges and appeals to the OAG for fair treatment.

February 2024: Thaksin leaves hospital and arrives at his family mansion in Bangkok after being granted early parole release on grounds of age and ill health following six months of detention.

Thaksin arrives at the OAG office in a wheelchair, wearing a surgical collar and arm sling. The OAG postpones the decision on whether to charge him with lese majeste until April 10, saying further investigation is needed.

April 2024: The decision on charges is postponed again, until May 29. OAG spokesman Prayut Phetcharakhun explains the investigation is only 70-80% complete.

May 2024: One day before his fate is to be decided on May 29, Thaksin says he has contracted COVID-19 and asks for his meeting with the OAG to be postponed.

The OAG decides to indict Thaksin over Article 112 but postpones the arraignment hearing until June 18.

Part of the deal?

Stithorn Thananithichot, director of the Office of Innovation for Democracy at King Prajadhipok’s Institute, said the lese majeste charge against Thaksin was likely part of the deal reached earlier for his return.

Stithorn’s belief is shared by many pundits, who claim Thaksin made an agreement with the powerful conservative-royalist establishment for his return. As evidence, they cite Pheu Thai’s alliance with junta-sponsored parties to form the government coalition.

Stithorn tells The Nation that this latest legal charge is a warning to Thaksin and Pheu Thai not to act merely on their own impulses.

“This is to control Thaksin, to limit his freedom,” said Stithorn, adding: “They [the establishment] want a power balance so that Pheu Thai does not monopolise state power.”

Thaksin has been busy with public activities since his parole release, meeting local influential figures in cities across the country. The ex-PM also appears to have dabbled in foreign affairs, reportedly negotiating with Myanmar armed ethnic groups and Malaysian leader Anwar Ibrahim at the beginning of May.

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