Police on guard against anti-king comments

BANGKOK, Nov. 4 (UPI) -- Thai police are cracking down on critics of the country's ailing monarch under laws that criminalize people for making comments deemed unpatriotic and demeaning.

Police are examining evidence against two people arrested last week, but now out on bail, for spreading false rumors in mid October about the health of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.


The monarch, 81, had been admitted to hospital in September with fever and fatigue. The comments questioning the king's health resulted in a stock market slump, a report in the Bangkok Post said.

Some stocks tumbled up to 6 percent in the largest loss since October 2008.

The Bangkok Post report named the two suspects as Thiranant Wipuchanin, 43, a former executive director of UBS Securities Thailand, and Katha Pajajiriyapong, 37, an employee of Seamico Securities.

They were alleged to have posted on the Web information relating to rumors on the foreign-registered Web sites and, said the deputy chief of the Central Investigation Bureau.


Police would continue their investigation further to see whether they were hired to circulate rumors, the Post article said. If charged, the two people face up to five years in prison and $3,000 in fines.

Criticism of the king is curtailed under the so-called lese majeste laws, which make it a treasonable offense to denigrate the crown or state. Lese majeste has been greatly eased in most European countries because of no longer having monarchs with absolute power. But the law remains in full force in Thailand, where the king has reigned as head of state for more than 60 years.

Around 2,000 Web sites that have criticized the king have been blocked by the Information and Communication Technology Ministry.

The authorities have not been shy of charging people under lese majeste. In March 2007 a Swiss national was sentenced to 10 years in jail for spray-painting graffiti on portraits of the king while drunk. In September 2008 an Australian was arrested at Bangkok's international airport and charged with lese majeste for an offending passage in his self-published but obscure book called Verisimilitude. He was sentenced to three years in jail.

In both cases the king later pardoned them.

Despite the king's magnanimity, democracy leaders have said the law is untenable in a modern state and against free speech. Prison terms for violation can be up to 15 years.


Many observers on all sides agree that the king has had a unifying role in a country that has suffered a very unstable political climate.

He has led the nation in a titular role -- but he must sign all laws -- through 15 successful or attempted coups, more than a dozen constitutions and 27 prime ministers. The king has also from time to time roundly criticized the military for its heavy-handedness in dealing with civil disturbances.

For those reasons there is a public acceptance of lese majeste.

All sides tacitly understand that the king should remain untouched, as his calls for peace can quell civil disturbances where actions by police or public leaders struggle to get crises under control.

But the current police crackdown comes as the king's health is a real concern, although not officially said so because of lese majeste laws. The government has, however, recently disclosed that the next monarch will be his son, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, 57, a career soldier and only son of the king and Queen Sirikit.

Vajiralongkorn is a graduate from Australia's Royal Military College in Canberra and has trained with the U.S., British and Australian armed services. He is a qualified helicopter pilot and took part in military operations against the Communist Party of Thailand in the 1970s. He has also led combat operations against Vietnamese military incursions across the border from Cambodia.


It remains to be seen just how much the son "shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated" as the constitution says. His Western lifestyle is not discussed openly, thanks again to lese majeste. But people have privately asked whether he has the natural authority to unify the nation, especially given his partisanship towards the military.

Meanwhile, the king remains convalescing in a heavily guarded Bangkok hospital as the unsaid succession to the throne gets thought about daily.

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