Thai government foe ordered to erase COVID-19 vaccine supply criticism

Thai government foe ordered to erase COVID-19 vaccine supply criticism

FILE PHOTO: Thai banned opposition politician holds news conference on royal company's role in
Thailand's banned opposition politician Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit speaks during a news conference in Bangkok, Thailand, Jan 21, 2021. (Photo: Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha)

BANGKOK: A Thai court has ordered a leading government foe to remove allegations on social media that the state's coronavirus vaccine policy is opaque and unfairly favours a company owned by the king, the government said on Sunday (Jan 31).

However, opposition politician Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit's Progressive Movement denied the videos were illegal and urged YouTube and Facebook to preserve freedom of expression.

The clips could still be viewed late on Sunday.

READ: Thailand on track to distribute locally made COVID-19 vaccines in June

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 most doses despite a lack of vaccine experience.

Critics say Prayut rigged a vote in 2019 to retain power - a charge he denies - and have broken a national taboo by increasingly criticising the monarchy.

READ: Thailand targets COVID-19 vaccination of 19 million people in first phase

SUBSIDY

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

The court did not comment when contacted by Reuters.

Thanathorn's movement said it had not 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 deemed illegal. He denied the charges.

READ: Thai scientists race to develop homemade COVID-19 vaccine amid second wave of infections

Now the government has lodged a case against him over the video, 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 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.

Relatively unscathed by COVID-19, Thailand on Sunday reported 829 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total to 18,782 cases and 77 fatalities since the outbreak started last January.

December, bringing total cases to 17,023 and 76 deaths.

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Source: Reuters/mi

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