Thanathorn defends questioning of vaccine plan, says lese-majeste charge politically motivated

Former Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit said on Thursday that the government is using the lese-majeste law to silence his questioning of its procurement plan for Covid-19 vaccines.

He said that previous and recent charges against him are politically motivated. This is not the first time that the Prayut administration is overly protecting of certain interests and only providing benefits to a single private entity, he said.

“This is a private company and they must look for profit…so if the government is giving them 600 million baht which comes from taxpayers’ money and later increased that funding to more than 1.4 billion baht, the people should be able to scrutinize it,” he said.

“There are many cases like this before, including what this government had been providing to King Power… and another case is the Gold Line sky train.” 

The Thai government has agreed a deal for Siam Bioscience, owned wholly by the Crown Property Bureau, to produce the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca-Oxford, under licence locally in Thailand with know-how provided by the foreign company. They are also buying another 2 million doses of CoronaVac vaccine from China’s Sinovac

The initial target is for Siam Bioscience to produce 200 million doses per year, with 174 million destined for other South-East Asian countries and 26 million doses intended for Thailand. The government has also said it was in negotiations to secure a further 35 million doses directly from AstraZeneca.

Thanathorn questioned the arrangement, saying that there is no record of the government even looking at other private companies for the deal, or of any selection process.

The current government plans are only set to procure vaccines for 21.5 per cent of the population, he said, based on a course of two injections for each patient and counting only the Thai quota from the Siam Bioscience production targets and the Chinese imports.

This shortfall was due to the government’s mismanagement, and its failure was damaging the country’s economic recovery, he said. “We are still living in the dark without the vaccine,” he said.

“What would happen if we have to wait for another six months and then the third and fourth wave came? People are living in fear and they cannot go back live normally without the vaccines,” he added.

He said Thailand has yet to even start inoculating its people, a striking delay compared to other countries, who were able to move ahead because they are buying their vaccines from many companies instead of just two.

Thanathorn had earlier raised these concerns on Monday during a Facebook Live session.

He said that Siam Bioscience and its subsidiaries have been failed businesses with the company accruing losses of over 581 million baht and that there are other Thai companies that are more suitable for the job.

The government funding of 1.45 billion baht to develop a viral vector vaccine could represent a conflict of interest, given the lack of other beneficiaries, he said.

He also said that this could be the attempt to increase public support for the royal institution which is currently being publicly criticized by the pro-democracy protestors from Ratsadon.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha said after the cabinet meeting that Thanathorn had “distorted everything” and threatened to prosecute “anyone that distorted the truth”.

By Wednesday, a lese-majeste complaint had been filed against Thanathorn by Nevin Chochaithip, deputy minister of the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society. The ministry is also asking the police to prosecute him for the violation of the Computer Crime Act.

Thanathorn is already facing a sedition charge for joining protest rallies and allegedly supporting pro-democracy movement led by Ratsadon. All three laws have been criticized by human rights organizations as being used by the Prayut administration as a political tool to get rid of dissidents.

The police are now prosecuting nearly 50 people for lese-majeste, most of them protest leaders and pro-reformers who are now calling for the reformation of the royal institution and the lifting of one of the world’s strictest lese-majeste laws.

Thanathorn said on Thursday that it was actually Prayut who first connect the royal institution to the government’s vaccine procurement plan during a press conference in November, not him.

He then showed a video of the PM who said that it is the king who suggested that the government use Siam Bioscience as the producer of the vaccine.

“Prayut has always been trying distort the issue at hand every time there is a criticism towards his mismanagement by bringing up the royal institution to hide his failures,” he said.

“He always claims that he is loyal to the royal institution, he always claims that he is protecting the royal institution, but isn’t this why many people are questioning the royal institution at the moment?” he said.

Thanathorn asked for the government to provide more transparency on the deal with AstraZeneca and said that he will not give up on promoting his causes with the Progressive Movement as he believes that all the cases against him are politically motivated.

“I am 42, for 40 years of my life I have never been prosecuted, not even one case. Then I started politics two years ago and now I have countless of cases against me,” he said.

“This is a distraction and they want us to spend time on these things, they want us to spend money on these things, they want us to lose focus, they want us to lose our morale because of all these persecutions and cases. But no, I refuse to surrender, they will not succeed,” he added.

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