BANGKOK – Thai authorities denounced on Wednesday an opposition leader of a crime against the king for criticizing an agreement with Siam Bioscience, a company supposedly linked to the country’s monarch, for the production of vaccines against COVID-19.
Thanathorn Juangroonruangkit, who said the country would depend too much on a company that has no previous experience in the manufacture of vaccines, faces between three and 15 years in prison, the penalty for anyone who defames, insults or threatens the monarchy.
The opponent said Siam Bioscience was established by the Office of the Crown Properties, an institution that reports directly to King Vajiralongkorn and manages a large portfolio of properties, assets and investments valued at around $35,000 million.
Thanathorn has also been reported for violating the Computer Crimes Act.
The Thai government reached an agreement last year with Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to produce some 63 million doses through Siam Bioscience.
The controversy began on Monday when Thanathorn criticized him in a video broadcast live on Facebook.
Thanathorn, who led the outlawed Future Forward Party, also said authorities would not be able to manufacture enough vaccines for the country of more than 69 million people, which has registered more than 12,000 coronavirus infections, including 71 deaths.
Apart from AstraZeneca, the government has also negotiated the acquisition of 2 million doses of the Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac, owned by a subsidiary of the Thai group CP.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha said on Tuesday that Thanathorn’s accusations were based on “misrepresentations and not facts” and announced that legal action would be taken.
The director of the National Vaccine Institute, Nakorn Premsri, said that Siam Bioscience was AstraZeneca’s best option and asked that the royal household not be implicated with the “wrong accusations.”
“Siam Bioscience is obviously the best choice for AstraZeneca technology transfer because of its modern technology and availability … under the most urgent conditions,” Nakorn noted.
After a few years in which no new charges of lèse-majesté were levelled, authorities began to use this crime against the leaders and followers of the demonstrations that in recent months have called for the reform of the monarchy.
Thailand’s Criminal Court issued the highest penalty for lèse-majesté in the country on Tuesday by sentencing a former civil servant accused of broadcasting a recording of a radio program criticizing the monarchy in 2014 to 43 years in prison.
The same court also sentenced writer Siraphob Korn-Arutla to four years in prison for writing poems and critical comments about the late King Bhumibol.
Since last July, at least 46 people, many of them student leaders, have been accused of violating the draconian law, under Article 112 of the Penal Code.