A 30-year-old man has been found guilty of royal defamation and given a suspended sentence of 1 year and 6 months for a post criticising Covid-19 vaccine production by the Siam Bioscience company.
“Wave,” a 30-year-old man from Nonthaburi, was charged with royal defamation and entering data which could affect national security into a computer system in violation of the Computer Crimes Act. His crime was to make and share Facebook posts alleging that a company linked to the crown was using taxpayer money to produce the vaccines. He was indicted in June 2023.
The indictment stated that, on 12 May 2021, Wave posted and publicly shared over Facebook a picture of King Vajiralongkorn, accompanied by a question about Siam Bioscience’s vaccine production. The public prosecutor indicted him on the grounds that the post insulted the King and contained false information.
Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) said that the complaint against Wave was filed by Nopadol Prompasit, a member of the Thailand Help Centre for Cyberbullying Victims, an online royalist group whose members have filed numerous lèse majesté charges against many netizens and monarchy reform advocates.
The Ratchapisek Criminal Court today (11 October) found Wave guilty of royal defamation. TLHR said that he was sentenced to 3 years in prison. The Court later reduced his sentence to 1 year and 6 months, suspended for 2 years, having determined that Wave might still become a good citizen. He is required to report to a probation officer 4 times in the next year and do 24 hours of community service within 2 years.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Siam Bioscience company was licensed to produce the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine for Thailand. King Vajiralongkorn holds all but two of its 48 million shares, according to Reuters.
After questionably deciding not to join COVAX, a global vaccine distribution scheme, the Thai government struck a deal allowing Siam Bioscience to be the sole local producer for AstraZeneca, a British-Swedish company, to produce AZD1222, a viral vector vaccine developed by Oxford University, with production aimed at distribution to people in Thailand and other countries.
The deal was made public in a Letter of Intent signing ceremony on 12 October 2020 between AstraZeneca, the Ministry of Public Health, Siam Bioscience and the Siam Cement Group. At the time, the Public Health Ministry announced it would pay 6,000 million baht to reserve vaccines produced in Thailand.
The deal was subject to criticism from pro-democracy activists and members of the public, with several questioning why it was the only company to receive a license from AstraZeneca and why the government would use taxpayer’s money to buy vaccines from a company which has been losing money and has no experience producing vaccines.
Several people have been charged with royal defamation over criticism relating to the company’s vaccine production. Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, former leader of the now-dissolved Future Forward Party and now leader of the non-profit organisation Progressive Movement, was indicted in April 2022 over a video he published in January 2021 criticising the government’s slow procurement of Covid-19 vaccines and questioning the government’s reliance on Siam Bioscience for vaccine production and distribution.
Activist Sopon Surariddhidhamrong was also charged for a speech given during a Labour Day protest on 1 May 2022 about access to Covid-19 vaccines. The public prosecutor indicted him in April 2023 on the grounds that he insulted Princess Sirivannavari, the King’s youngest daughter, by saying that the Princess and her friends were being given early access to the Pfizer vaccine and that members of the royal family are getting the AstraZeneca vaccine while the people are denied access to it because the King is a shareholder in Siam Bioscience.