Saturday, January 22, 2022

Thai court orders removal of clips claiming king’s company ‘favoured’ in Covid-19 vaccine manufacture

Siam Bioscience is owned by King Maha Vajiralongkorn, and will supply the majority of doses despite an alleged lack of vaccine experience.

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A Thai court has ordered a leading government critic to remove allegations on social media that the state’s coronavirus vaccine policy unfairly favours a company owned by the king, the government said on Sunday.

Opposition politician Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s Progressive Movement denied the videos were illegal and urged YouTube and Facebook to preserve freedom of expression.

Thailand’s digital ministry said the Criminal Court ruled that Thanathorn’s posts on social media and his movement’s website could breach national security.

The videos accuse Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government of lack of transparency in allowing Siam Bioscience, which is owned by King Maha Vajiralongkorn, to supply the majority of doses despite an alleged lack of vaccine experience.

Siam Bioscience received a 600-million-baht (US$20 million) subsidy to develop capacity to manufacture AstraZeneca vaccines domestically and across Southeast Asia.

Thanathorn’s movement said it had not yet received the ruling.

“We continue to stress that the content is not false or a threat to national security,” tweeted Pannika Wanich, a prominent Progressive Movement member. “We hope YouTube and Facebook will stand by the rights and freedom of expression.”

Thanathorn was banned from politics for 10 years after a court dissolved his previous Future Forward Party last year over loans judged to be illegal. He denied those charges.

Now the government has lodged a case against him over the videos, accusing him of insulting royalty, a charge punishable by up to 15 years’ prison.

The government said Siam Bioscience manufacturing is on track to deliver the first batch of 61 million doses to the Thai public by June.

There was no immediate comment from Thanathorn or Siam Bioscience on the court ruling. The palace traditionally does not comment on political disputes.

The court did not comment when contacted by Reuters and the clips could still be viewed late on Sunday.

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