Thai protest chief arrested over royal insult

 

Thai media firebrand Sondhi Limthongkul, leader of an anti-government street campaign, surrendered to police today to answer accusations of insulting King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Sondhi, who staged similar protests in 2005 that eventually resulted in a coup against then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, led 1,500 protesters on a 1 km march to give himself up at the Metropolitan Police Headquarters. He faces up to

15 years in jail if found guilty of defaming the deeply revered monarch.

"This is a political set-up. He did nothing wrong," his lawyer, Suwat Apaipak, told reporters before police questioned Sondhi for two hours. He was later released on bail.

Police said it would take a month to collect evidence and they wanted to question Sondhi again on August 16th.

A Bangkok court issued an arrest warrant yesterday, the day after the arrest of a female pro-government supporter on similar charges relating to comments she made at an anti-Sondhi rally.

Police said Sondhi's charges stemmed from his repetition of her comments.

"I have instructed him to be careful about this issue in his speeches and he has promised not to mention it," Metropolitan Police chief Aswin Kwanmuang told reporters.

Insulting the monarchy, or lese majeste, is a common feature of Thailand's fractious political scene, with anybody able to file a complaint against an opponent no matter how trivial or tangential the alleged disrespect to the royal family.

Bhumibol, the world's longest-reigning monarch after more than 60 years on the throne, is regarded as semi-divine by many Thais, but has said he is not above criticism, suggesting he is uncomfortable with the widespread political abuse of the lese majeste law.

Sondhi's People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) - a motley group of businessmen, academics and royalists united by their hatred of Thaksin - accuses the pro-Thaksin government of wanting to turn Thailand into a republic, a charge it denies.

Reuters