Thai police arrest famed social critic on lese majeste charge

Thai police on Friday released on bail famed social critic Sulak Sivaraksa after arresting him on charges of lese majeste for a speech he made last year, reported dpa.

Sulak, 76, was arrested in Bangkok Thursday evening and driven to Khon Kaen, 370 kilometres north-east of the capital, where he was interrogated for three hours on charges of insulting the monarchy in a speech he delivered at Khon Kaen University on December 10, 2007.

Sulak was informed of another police charge of lese majeste on Monday for an article he had written in the Seeds of Peace magazine published several years ago.

"This is strange," said Sulak of the two charges, both based on old incidents.

"I was told, unofficially, that there was a hidden hand behind the scene who wants me prosecuted," Sulak told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

Sulak's arrest comes at a sensitive time for the Thai monarchy, which in Thailand is protected by a lese majeste law that carries a maximum sentence of 15 years imprisonment.

The government last month ordered a crackdown on websites that criticize the monarchy.

On November 14-16 Thailand will observe three days of national mourning for Princess Galyani Vadhana, the elder sister of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The princess died on January 2, 2008, aged 84.

The monarchy has been dragged in to a struggle between the anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and pro-government forces.

The PAD is fanatically opposed to efforts to return fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to power, and is seeking the downfall of the current government under Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, Thaksin's brother-in-law.

Thaksin, in a phone-in to a rally of some 60,000 supporters on Saturday said his return to Thailand, where he faces a two-year jail sentence on an abuse-of-power conviction, would depend on the "kindness of His Majesty or the power of the people."

Sulak publicly criticized the speech on Thai TV for being a "threat" and "impolite."

But the well-known social critic, who has faced lese majeste charges in the past, was not sure whether it was pro-Thaksin people who had brought the latest charges against him.

In 1991, former military strongman General Suchinda Krapayoon filed a lese majeste charges against Sulak, which were rejected by the courts after a four year trial period.

Thailand's lese majeste law, which carries the harshest penalties worldwide according to legal experts, is highly controversial.

Even King Bhumibol, in a speech delivered on the eve of this 79th birthday last year, criticized the law.

"These recent charges ignore the court's verdict and the king's own statement," said Sulak of the latest charges against him.

"I am known worldwide for supporting constitutional monarchy, but I don't support absolute monarchy," said Sulak. "I have been saying the same thing for the past 30 years and I am too old to shut up."

A group of young military officers overthrew Thailand's absolute monarchy in 1932, replacing it with a constitutional monarchy and democratic form of government.

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