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Thai opposition politician charged with slandering king after vaccine remarks

Thai opposition politician charged with slandering king after vaccine remarks
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit (C), former leader of the Future Forward Party in Thailand, was charged under the country's lese-majeste law Wednesday, according to reports. File Photo by Rungroj Yongri/EPA-EFE

Jan. 21 (UPI) -- A vocal opposition politician in Thailand said he "will not surrender" after being charged with insulting King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, 42, said Thursday at a press conference the charges brought under Thailand's lese-majeste law was "politically motivated," The Guardian reported.

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Thanathorn was indicted in 2020 and his Future Forward Party dissolved after he challenged an election outcome that allowed Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to remain in power.

The charge of insulting the monarchy comes after Thanathorn had said the government was "reckless" and didn't move fast enough to provide vaccines for the country.

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The opposition politician, a billionaire heir to a car parts business, questioned the competence of the royalist government and the royal-owned Siam Bioscience on Monday.

The Thai company is partnering with AstraZeneca on a tech transfer for COVID-19 vaccines.

Thanathorn raised concerns under Siam Bioscience, the vaccines would be distributed inequitably and could cause "side effects."

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The 10 royal defamation charges came Wednesday, according to Voice of America. Under Section 112 of the Thai criminal code, each charge can bring from three to 15 years in prison. Thanathorn potentially can face more than a century in jail sentences, the report said.

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The Thai politician's stand against the government comes after a court sentenced a woman, Anchan Preelert, to 43 years in jail for insulting the monarchy. The defendant had also used social media platforms, including Facebook, to share media critical of the king.

Thai authorities said the charges are necessary because Thanathorn "distorted facts and caused misunderstanding among people."

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"He violated the monarchy, which upset Thai people who love and protect the monarchy," said Suporn Atthawong, an official with the prime minister's office, according to VOA.

Thai authorities have made dozens of arrests since 2020 under lese-majeste. Protesters in the country have demanded the king give up control of assets worth tens of billions of dollars amid an economic crisis caused by the pandemic.

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