Thanathorn says government aims to silence him

Thanathorn says government aims to silence him

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit speaks during an interview with Reuters following a news conference after the Digital Ministry filed a criminal complaint against him for defaming the monarchy after he criticised the country's coronavirus disease vaccine strategy, at the party's headquarters in Bangkok on Thursday. (Reuters photo)
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit speaks during an interview with Reuters following a news conference after the Digital Ministry filed a criminal complaint against him for defaming the monarchy after he criticised the country's coronavirus disease vaccine strategy, at the party's headquarters in Bangkok on Thursday. (Reuters photo)

A banned opposition politician, who is facing a criminal complaint of defaming the monarchy, defended on Thursday his criticism of the government's coronavirus vaccine strategy that relies on a company owned by His Majesty the King.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit this week accused the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha of mishandling the vaccine campaign, saying it was too reliant on Siam Bioscience and will be slow to protect the public.

The company is owned by the Crown Property Bureau, the organisation that manages tens of billions of dollars in investment under the king's personal control.

Siam Bioscience agreed in October to manufacture AstraZeneca Plc's Covid-19 vaccine and supply it domestically and across Southeast Asia.

The government has ordered 61 million doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine for its population, as well as 2 million doses of a vaccine made by China's Sinovac Biotech.

Mr Thanathorn had alleged the AstraZeneca deal lacked transparency and Siam Bioscience was given an unfair advantage over other companies.

He said the government, by relying mostly on AstraZeneca instead of negotiating multiple deals, has slowed the rollout of vaccines for Thais to June, while other countries have already begun to vaccinate their populations.

Both AstraZeneca and Siam Bioscience declined to comment on Mr Thanathorn's allegations.

The government has defended its policy and on Wednesday and filed a criminal complaint against Thanathorn for his criticism, accusing him of royal insult under article 112 of the criminal code that is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

"The deals were not negotiated independently of each other. There was no selection process or comparison so questions must be raised," Mr Thanathorn told a news conference, during which he said the prime minister was using Section 112 to silence him.

A government spokeswoman, Ratchada Dhanadirek, has denied the prosecution was politically motivated.

Mr Thanathorn was banned from politics for 10 years after a court dissolved his Future Forward Party last year for illegal loans.

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