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Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej

Thailand to ask other countries to extradite suspected critics of royal family

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 October, 2016, 3:55pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 12:23am

Thailand’s military government said on Tuesday it would ask other countries to extradite people suspected of insulting the nation’s monarchy following the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej last week.

Thailand has entered a year of mourning and sensitivities are running high following the death of the revered king last week after seven decades on the throne.

Criticism of the monarch, is a crime that carries a jail sentence of up to 15 years in Thailand.

The junta said it has been tracking six high-profile lese majeste suspects living abroad who it says have tried to stir up unrest in Thailand and will ask for their extradition.

“We will ask for cooperation, friendship and respect from these countries and we hope that they understand that all Thais cannot accept these insults,” Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya told reporters.

Paiboon conceded that there were significant legal and diplomatic challenges around seeking the extraditions but said he would proceed with the requests regardless.

The junta last week urged citizens to report cases of lese majeste to authorities. It has also asked internet service providers to monitor content and block inappropriate material.

“There is no better way to punish these people than to socially sanction them,” Paiboon said and vowed to “pursue those people who violate the law”.

His message comes amid a growing number of cases of vigilantism meted out by royalist Thais on people accused of having insulted the monarchy.

A series of videos has surfaced online in recent days showing angry mobs accusing people of insulting the monarchy.

In the latest incident, a man in Chonburi province was shown being pushed around by a mob and struck several times on the head. He was later forced to prostrate himself before a portrait of the late king, apologise, and shout “I love the king” while onlookers hurled punches and death threats at him.

On Monday, an elderly woman accused of insulting the monarchy was struck in the face after commuters forced her to leave the bus she was riding on.

“How could you insult the royal father? You shouldn’t have been born,” the person who assaulted her was heard shouting on the video.

Police said the woman was mentally ill.

On Sunday a woman named Umaporn Sarasat on Samui island was forced by police to kneel below a portrait of King Bhumibol in front of a baying mob after she allegedly posted an insulting comment about the monarchy on Facebook. She was later charged with lese majeste.

Similar mobs formed on the southern island of Phuket and in nearby Phang Nga province sparked by alleged comments.

Others on social media have publicly berated those deemed not to be sufficiently mourning or failing to wear black clothes.

The latter – dubbed “black shaming” – has been criticised by the junta who say poorer Thais may not be able to afford a new wardrobe of black clothing and that people mourn in different ways.

Thailand’s monarchy is protected by a draconian lese majeste law that outlaws criticism with punishments of up to 15 years in jail for each insult uttered.

Prosecutions have surged under the military, who seized power two years ago, with record breaking sentences handed down in some cases.

That has made detailed discussion or debate about the monarchy’s role – and its future after Bhumibol’s 70-year reign – all but impossible.

Media inside Thailand, both local and foreign, must heavily self-censor.

While debate on the monarchy has been shut down inside Thailand for years, authorities struggle to censor critics or media based overseas.

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But Paiboon said the junta would renew extradition requests for Thais abroad – something that is unlikely to carry traction with foreign governments in those countries where lese majeste is not a crime.

“It’s difficult to bring them to prosecution in Thailand,” Paiboon said. “But we must do it to stop their movement and reproduction, we will do our best.”

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse