Jomtien Hospital and Bangkok Hospital Rayong have announced the dismissal of Dr Saravin Thongrong for “inappropriate behaviour against the rules of the company” after his comments on the late King Bhumibol surfaced on the internet. Right-wing activists have called for his license to be revoked and for him to be prosecuted under the lèse-majesté law.
On 6 January, Jomtien Hospital released an announcement on Facebook dismissing Dr Saravin, effective from the day of the announcement. Bangkok Hospital Rayong also announced his dismissal on the same day. Both hospitals used the same wording, saying that he had committed “inappropriate behaviour” which was “against the rules of the company” and the hospitals “apologized for the occurrence.”
Dr Saravin had worked at Jomtien Hospital as a full-time employee and at Bangkok Hospital Rayong part-time. His dismissal was announced after Dr Saravin’s comments on Facebook went viral.
The Facebook page of Bangkok Hospital Rayong advertised its readiness to respond to the spread of the Covid-19. The post led to a debate between Dr Saravin and other Facebook users about the role of Siam Bioscience Co Ltd, which was founded on the initiative of the late King Bhumibol, whom Dr Saravin referred to using rude language.
Screenshots of Dr Saravin’s comments were found on the Facebook pages of conservative supporters and outlets. However, the Facebook page of Bangkok Hospital Rayong where the original comments were posted is no longer available at the time of this report.
With the Crown Property Bureau as the sole shareholder of the company, Bangkok Biz News reports that Siam Bioscience will produce the anti-Covid vaccine to be available for Thais in May at a cost price of 5 US dollars per dose. Under the current law, the Crown Property Bureau is the personal possession of King Vajiralongkorn.
Dr Saravin was also found commenting about the late King Bhumibol as a member of the Royalist Marketplace (Talad Luang), a Facebook group which now has 2.2 million members and is critical of the monarchy. A 6 January report says that the Royalist Marketplace was the 15th largest Facebook group in the world in 2021.
As Dr Saravin was fired, right-wing activists pledged to take further action. Despite the announcement from the two hospitals, Maj Gen Rienthong Nanna, the founder of the ultraroyalist Rubbish Collection Organisation, posted on Facebook that he would wage social measures against Jomtien Hospital and Bangkok Hospital Rayong unless they sack Dr Saravin. Rienthong also claimed that Dr Saravin graduated from Khon Kaen University, calling Khon Kaen Hospital to check whether they hired him as an employee.
On 8 January, Srisuwan Janya, an activist known as “the complainer in chief”, also requested the Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) to prosecute Dr Saravin, and a Facebook user named “Watcharin” who posted similar comments, under Section 112 of the Criminal Code and the Section 14 of the Computer Crime Act. Srisuwan also said he will request the Medical Council of Thailand to revoke the medical license of Dr Saravin.
The lèse-majesté law (Section 112) says that “whoever, defames, insults or threatens the King, the Queen, the Heir-apparent or the Regent, shall be punished with imprisonment of three to fifteen years.” It is not clear if former monarchs, like the late King Bhumibol, are protected under this law.
For 2 years the law was in abeyance, and the Prime Minister claimed that King Vajiralongkorn had prohibited the authorities from using it out of mercy. But in the last few weeks as many as 40 lèse majesté cases have been filed against Thai activists in the wake of pro-democracy protests last year which called for monarchy reform.
Before the return of the lèse majesté law late last year, Section 14 of Computer Crime Act had been used together with Section 116 of the Criminal Code, the law on sedition, as a substitute. Section 14 of the Computer Crime Act says that whoever imports into a computer system data which is deemed as a likely threat to national security shall be punished by up to five years in jail and/or a fine of not more than 100,000 baht.