Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's lawyer has filed a report with the police against Suthipongse 'Heart' Thatphithakkul under the lèse majesté law and the Computer Crime Act. Suthipongse, a famous Thai singer with a political profile, is one among many who have been charged for speaking out against the government's vaccine policy.
Seksakon Atthawong, also known as Rambo Isan, assistant to the Minister of the Office of the Prime Minister, threatened on 15 May that the matter could be withdrawn if Suthipongse truly loves the monarchy and wants to help the country.
According to the Thai legal system, a criminal charge cannot be withdrawn unless a suspect is proven innocent. Suthipongse’s case was reported on 13 May at Nang Loeng Police Station, together with evidence of his Facebook post criticizing the government's Covid-19vaccine policy.
“The medicine of the boss is not selling. The stock is not moving. The lackeys have to come out to help with the marketing (I copied this from someone else) #vaccine monopoly, unless you are really ruthless, cannot be done," said one of the Facebook posts which made him a suspect under the lèse majesté law and the Computer Crime Act.
Apiwat Kantong, the Prime Minister’s lawyer, said that the term “boss” might refer to the monarchy and even if it was copied from someone else it might still constitute disinformation and lèse majesté.
After Suthipongse was reported to the police, he posted on Facebook asking ”how come that the Prime Minister sues the people?”
In a separate Facebook post, Suthipongse asked the government to drop the charges because he ran out of money to hire lawyers. Suthipongse also said that he was not interested in entering politics and the government may even get his help if it talks to him nicely.
Who is Heart?
Suthipongse ‘Heart’ Thatphithakkul was a famous singer in Thailand. After he earned a Bachelor of Economics from the University of California at Los Angeles, and a Master of Economics from the University of Southern California, he returned to Thailand not only as a singer, but also as an economic analyst and famous TV host on many channels and programmes.
Suthipongse entered politics briefly in June 1997 when he became an executive committee member of the Prachakorn Thai Party under Samak Sundaravej as the party leader. However, he was disqualified from the party only 6 months later.
At the time, Prachakorn Thai was an important player in the Thai political landscape. After Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh resigned from the premiership because of the financial crisis in 1997, Prachakorn Thai defected from Chavalit’s New Aspiration Party coalition and forged a new government led by the Democrat Party with Chuan Leekpai as the Prime Minister.
In 2015 (one year after the military coup by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha), Suthipongse invited Anutin Charnvirakul to sing a song in his show “Byrd & Heart” which he made with his old colleague Kulpong “Byrd” Bunnag. Anutin became Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health in the current government after the election in 2019.
In 2018, Suthipongse revealed that he had 3 wives and 7 children.
When the protests erupted in Thailand, he became more vocal against Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government. In 2019, Narisroj Fuangrabil, former Thai ambassador to Argentina who posted on Facebook against the pro-democracy protesters, filed a report with police against Suthipongse for defamation after Suthipongse criticized him in a comment on the Facebook page of political exile Pavin Chachavalpongpun.
Suthipongse gave Narisroj flowers and apologized so the case was withdrawn.
Not the only one
Suthipongse is not the only one to criticize the government’s vaccine policy who now faces legal charges.
On 18 January, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit of the Progressive Movement went Live on Facebook with a presentation on “The Royal Vaccine: Whose benefit, Whose loss?” Thanathorn was charged with violating the lèse majesté law and the Computer Crime Act on 21 January by the Prime Minister’s lawyer Apiwat.
On Facebook Live, Thanathorn said that although there were many vaccine providers, the Thai government bought only from AstraZeneca and Sinovac and in insufficient quantities because the government wanted to support Siam Bioscience Co. Ltd. Nikkei Asia reports that King Vajiralongkorn owns all but 2 of the company’s shares.
On 25 January, student protesters led by Benja Apan and Parit Chiwarak held an activity at the Srijulsup Building, where Siam Bioscience’s registered office is located, to publicize the problems surrounding the government’s vaccine policy. They too face 4 charges under the lèse majesté law, the Emergency Decree, the Communicable Diseases Act, and the Advertisement by Using Sound Amplifiers Control Act.
On 25 January, 5 students and citizens in Lampang Province were also served with summons as suspects under the lèse majesté law for displaying a banner which said “Budget for monarchy > Covid-19 vaccines.” The suspects were named as Phinit Thongkham, Wannaphon Hutakowit, Phattharakan Khaengkhan, Yupadee Kulkittanon), and Wan (alias).
In February 2021, a female student from Rajabhat University, Chiang Rai, and an admin of the page “Free Youth - CEI” was arrested under the lèse majesté law and the Computer Crime Act for sharing the “budget for monarchy > Covid-19 vaccines” banner on Facebook. Police believe that she was involved in hanging the banner near to King Vajiralongkorn’s portrait.
On 3 March, Piyarat Chongthep, a leading activist of the We Volunteer group, was detained in Kalasin Remand Prison on charges under the lèse majesté law and the Computer Crime Act for 7 protest signs against the government’s vaccine policy and for his social media posts of the protest signs. After 33 days in detention, he was allowed bail with a security of 200,000 baht.