08/20/2021, 14.46
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Critic of local AstraZeneca manufacturer charged with lèse-majesté

by Steve Suwannarat

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, founder of the Future Forward Party in 2018, raised doubts about a vaccine manufactured in Thailand by a company owned by the royal household. He faces up to 15 years in prison. Activists slam the increasing use of this charge to silence criticism of the military and the monarchy.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – The founder of the Future Forward Party is facing two more charges. Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit is accused of making statements on livestream on 18 January 2021 deemed offensive to the monarchy.

Juangroongruangkit, whose party was dissolved by the Constitutional Court in February 2020, has come to embody Thailand’s protest movement thanks to his professional traits, age and communication skills.

Despite threats, repression and pandemic, he remains a rallying point for civil society groups. However, he ran afoul of the authorities by raising doubts about the use by health authorities of the AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by Siam Bioscience Group, which is owned by the royal household.

The 42-year-old entrepreneur is currently in France, officially to take part in the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc marathon (23-29 August). Upon hearing the new charges of lèse-majesté, he said he plans to return to Thailand to face them.

This offence carries up to 15 years in prison per charge. Thai activists and media, as well as foreign observers, believe that lèse-majesté has been used as a deterrent for repressive purpose against critics of the military regime and the royal family. 

In recent years a taboo has been broken. The monarchy as an institution has come under closer scrutiny, with Thailand’s opposition demanding that it be modernised along with the country, and that the royal family be more involved in the life of the country and its initiatives and enormous wealth be subjected to greater transparency.

The distance between the royals and ordinary Thais appears that much greater and unacceptable at a time of health, economic and employment crises, especially since the gap between official data and that by independent sources, business groups and professional associations cannot be masked.

While the vaccination roll out is proceeding slowly, the economy is performing poorly in almost every sector.  To remedy the situation, the governor of the Bank of Thailand urged the government to raise a trillion baht (about US$ 30 billion) on money markets.

The goal is to stimulate an economy that is facing four major challenges. This year, Thai workers may lose more than 2.5 trillion baht in income. About 3.4 million Thais might be unemployed or nearly unemployed (13.4 percent of the non-agricultural labour force) by year-end. Key sectors such as tourism cannot bounce back without support. And Thailand may need at least three years to fully recover rather than two as the rest of Asia.

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