Thai political analyst charged with insulting king

Police accused Thailand's leading leftist political commentator of insulting the king in a 2007 book criticising the previous year's military coup.

Thai political analyst charged with insulting king

Police filed formal charges against Thailand's leading leftist political commentator on Tuesday, accusing him of insulting the king in a 2007 book criticising the previous year's military coup.

Giles Ungpakorn of Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University denied all charges, and said the army and Democrat Party-led government were merely using Thailand's draconian lese majeste laws to crush dissent and political opposition.

"Lese majeste is being used to destroy free speech," Ungpakorn told reporters outside the central Bangkok police station where he heard the charges.

"The lese majeste laws are there to protect the military and to protect governments that come to power through military action. They're not really about protecting the monarchy," he said.

Insulting the monarchy is taken extremely seriously in Thailand, where many people regard King Bhumibol Adulyadej as semi-divine.

It carries up to 15 years in jail although critics say the law is frequently abused by politicians since a complaint can be filed by anybody against anybody else, no matter how trivial or tangential the alleged disrespect to the crown.

An Australian author was sentenced to three years in jail on Monday for defaming the crown prince in a 2005 novel that only sold seven copies.

Earlier this month, Justice Minister Pirapan Salirathavibhaga vowed to toughen the laws, although Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said last week he was trying to "strike the balance between upholding the law and allowing freedom of expression".

Abhisit came to power in December after the courts dissolved a government sympathetic to former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in the 2006 coup.

Others to have fallen foul of the lese majeste law in the last year include a pro-Thaksin minister, a British correspondent for the BBC and a democracy activist who refused to stand up for the king's anthem at the start of a movie screening.

Reuters
Last Mod: 20 Ocak 2009, 12:19
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