Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit at Ratchada Criminal Court in 2021. Credit: Courtesy from Chana La

Thanathorn to take legal action against false vaccination claims

The leader of the Progressive Movement has said that he will take legal action against right-wing media and government agencies for violating his data privacy and spreading misinformation over his vaccination status and personal travel.

Talking of what they call “VIP vaccination,” right wing media outlets claim that Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit jumped the queue for vaccines at the expense of the elderly. They also claimed that he accepted AstraZeneca shots despite his criticisms of the “royal vaccine.”

Pannika Wanich, spokesperson of the Progressive Movement, said on 10 January that the government had set 7 June 2021 as the vaccination D-Day for people above 18 years old in high-risk areas including Bangkok and nearby provinces.

Thanathorn had his vaccination on 1 July, followed by Pannika herself on 3 July, she said. She also cited data from the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Innovation on 15 July that 50% of vaccinated people were in high-risk areas, followed by the elderly (20%) and the 7 at-risk groups (7%).

The data also said that 45% in Bangkok had been vaccinated by that date. In Samut Prakan, where Thanathorn received his shot, the vaccinated population was 24%. Therefore, Thanathorn was a part of the large group who were vaccinated in the area, said Pannika.

Debunking the right wing’s claim that Thanathorn was a hypocrite, Pannika said that accepting an AstraZeneca vaccine did not contradict his call for diversification of vaccine supplies. Thanathorn also campaigned for people to get vaccinated, together with Move Forward Party MPs.

The Progressive Movement’s spokesperson also claimed that the misinformation about Thanathorn was made possible with the help of government agencies. Thanathorn’s vaccination records on the Mor Prom application were leaked for political purposes.

The travel records of Thanathorn and Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, Secretary-General of the Progressive Movement, were also publicized by the Immigration Bureau. She asked whether it was okay for the government to spend resources on fabricating stories while the country was still in all kinds of problems.

At the end of the year, a right-wing outlet displayed a photo of Thanathorn’s passport and claimed that he was going to the Netherlands with his family, implying that he was fleeing punishment for his alleged crimes as protest leaders were detained.

“I always try to be patient”

On 11 January, Thanathorn announced his legal action on Facebook, saying “I always try to be patient with attempts to smear me and destroy my credibility and reputation by a certain group of people who support the conservative dictatorship network.”

However, because the claims are not true and the group in question has been inciting public hatred against not only him but also human rights defenders, he decided to take legal action against the group and the government agencies involved.

In a link attached in his post, Top News, a right-wing media outlet which itself helped spread the misinformation, interviewed the hospital’s director, who Thanathorn never knew and was never in contact with. The director said that the entire process went as normal.

Thanathorn said that he went to receive a jab at night after there were vaccines left over from the day’s vaccination programme. In his defence, he called for diversification of vaccine supplies, saying that “betting on only one horse” would put the country at risk and he did not want any particular vaccine.

Last year, Thanathorn was charged with lèse majesté after he criticized on Facebook Live the government’s overreliance on the “royal” vaccine (i.e. AstraZeneca produced under licence by royally-owned Siam Bioscience). With court-approved bail, he has not been detained.

On 3 January this year, Thanathorn announced that he was infected with Covid-19 and was put under quarantine in compliance with government policy. He said that he was still healthy and thanked everyone for their support.

Privacy violations

Anutin Charnvirakul, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health, said on 12 January that Thanathorn came to receive his vaccination as scheduled and that there was nothing unusual. He also said he was very pleased to hear that Thanathorn had been vaccinated, and encouraged all citizens to do the same.

“Regarding VIP vaccination, the Ministry’s policy under my watch is to treat people everywhere and everyone is a VIP, meaning that every citizen is a VIP,” said Anutin.

Anutin said he had heard that Thanathorn was infected with Covid-19. While he was not sure whether Thanathorn has taken a booster, Anutin said that the Ministry was always ready to be of service.

However, the Minister denied an accusation that the Ministry had leaked Thanathorn’s personal information. He claimed that such information was not secret in the first place, and anyone can look it up by inputting a person’s ID number into the Mor Prom application.

In response, Move Forward Party MP Wayo Assawarungruang said he was shocked that the Minister of Public Health did not understand the significance and legal implications of this violation of personal privacy.

“These days, personal data is a very valuable asset, because it can be used for analysis and many kinds of predictions. Many countries that are aware of this. I believe that it is also a question of personal security,” said Wayo.

Wayo said that it was a shame that Personal Data and Privacy Act was still not enforced in Thailand. But the Minister may have violated Section 7 of the 2007 National Health Act which says “Personal health information shall be kept confidential. No person shall disclose it in such a manner as to cause damage to him or her unless it is done according to his or her will, or is required by a specific law to do so.”

Wayo also said that the Minister may have violated Section 323 of the Criminal Code which says that any medical, religious, legal or financial professional who “discloses such private secret in a manner likely to cause injury to any person, shall be punished with imprisonment not exceeding six months or fined not exceeding one thousand Baht, or both.”

He concluded that this was a question about the personal information of not just a politician but the personal information of all people throughout the country. He suggested that it may be possible to file a complaint with the Administrative Court to bring about changes in how data is collected in the Mor Prom application.

“This may be not only negligence, but a violation of the law. And this issue also is guaranteed in Section 32 of the 2017 Constitution which states that ‘a person shall enjoy the rights of privacy, dignity, reputation and family,” said Wayo.

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