Thai man arrested for Internet comments on king

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The Associated Press

Published: January 15, 2009

BANGKOK, Thailand: A Thai man has been arrested on charges of insulting the monarchy and could face up to 15 years in prison under a harsh lese majeste law that is being used with more frequency, police said Thursday.

Suwicha Thakhor was arrested Wednesday for allegedly posting messages insulting the monarchy on the Internet, but the suspect denied the allegation, said Police Maj. Gen. Thawi Sodsong, director general of the Department of Special Investigation.

Police did not name the Web sites involved or describe what allegedly violated the country’s harsh lese majeste law — which is intended to protect the royal institution.

New Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva gave a speech Wednesday saying his government would try to ensure that the law, which carries a penalty of three to 15 years imprisonment, is not be abused. But he said the monarchy must be protected because it has “immense benefits to the country as a stabilizing force.”

There has been a recent spate of lese majeste complaints and prosecutions, and increased censorship of Web sites allegedly critical of the Thai monarchy.

Public discussion of the monarchy’s role was once taboo in Thailand, but the issue has assumed a higher profile lately as consideration has been given to who will succeed 81-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-serving head of state.

Bhumibol is credited as being the nation’s unifying force during times of crisis, though he has no major official role in politics. He has great influence because of the immense respect he commands from most Thais.

Abhisit has also urged moderation in enforcing Internet censorship, though he said the authorities will continue to block sites that insult the monarchy.

Ji Ungpakorn, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University facing lese majeste charges, called Tuesday for a campaign to abolish the lese majeste law.

He said he will be questioned by police next week because of a book he wrote about Thailand’s 2006 military coup that ousted elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Others who have recently faced lese majeste complaints include Thai activist Chotisak Onsoong, who was summonsed in April 2008 for refusing to stand up during the playing of the Royal Anthem before a movie, and Sulak Sivaraksa, a prominent Buddhist intellectual who was arrested in November for questioning whether lavish official celebrations of the king’s reign were an appropriate way to honor the monarchy.

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