Weaponizing Insults

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Thai authorities on Wednesday accused former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of violating the country’s strict royal insult laws, the latest twist in a long-running saga against one of Thailand’s most influential political figures, CNN reported.

The charges stem from comments he made during an interview with a South Korean newspaper in 2015, police said. Thaksin will be required to present himself to the attorney general’s office on June 18.

He has denied the allegations and reaffirmed his loyalty to the monarchy.

The recent charges come less than a year after the former leader, who governed Thailand from 2001 until his ousting in a military coup in 2006, returned to the country after 15 years in self-imposed exile.

Shortly after his arrival in August, he was sentenced to eight years in prison on a slew of charges, including conflict of interest, abuse of power and corruption. However, his sentence was reduced to one year in prison and he was later released on parole in February after serving six months in a police hospital.

The lèse-majesté charge against Thaksin is seen by some analysts as politically motivated. It comes a week after the Thai constitutional court accepted a petition seeking the removal of current Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin over the appointment of Pichit Chuenban, a Thaksin aide with a criminal record, to his cabinet, wrote the South China Morning Post.

Observers suggest these actions aim to curb Thaksin’s influence: He heads the Shinawatra political dynasty that has dominated Thai politics for two decades.

Thaksin’s return came amid a political alliance between his Pheu Thai party and former military rivals following the May 2023 election.

Meanwhile, legal analysts and human rights groups said Thaksin’s indictment marks another use of Thailand’s strict royal defamation laws to stifle dissent.

Under the lèse-majesté laws, violators can face up to 15 years imprisonment for criticizing or insulting members of the royal family. Thaksin’s indictment follows the death of a young activist in pre-trial detention for breaking the lèse-majesté laws, sparking calls for legal reforms.

Since the 2020 youth-led protests demanding democratic reforms, more than 1,950 people, including 286 minors, have been prosecuted or charged by the previous military-backed government.

Despite a shift to civilian rule, rights advocates said surveillance and intimidation persist.

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