Opposition leaders have reacted with fury in response to renewed talk of returning a Thai passport to ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said yesterday Thailand will issue Thaksin a passport "very soon". Opposition leaders have vowed to take legal action against the government if he succeeds.
The minister said the passport could be returned as a "New Years gift", but has suggested the date could be earlier. The former prime minister was overthrown in a coup in 2006 while he was out of the country. He was later prosecuted for abuse of power and sentenced to two years jail, but fled the country before the end of the trial.
The news comes as Shinawatra was left out of the royal pardon which has been granted to 26,000 inmates to mark the 84th Birthday of Thailand's King today. By law, the royal pardon applies only to inmates who have served at least part of their punishment for crimes not related to drugs.
Current Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra herself promised that her Pheu Thai Party would bring her brother Thaksin back to Thailand. 5 years on, Thaksin remains a divisive figure amongst the Thai populace.
Report: Thaksin barred as thousands given freedom [Bangkok Post, 5 December 2011]
Report: New talk of Thaksin passport return sparks critics' fury [Bangkok Post, 3 December 2011]
Report: Thaksin Shinawatra 'to be given Thai passport back'[BBC News, 2 December 2011]
Meanwhile, leading human rights group Human Rights Watch called on Thailand's government Saturday to amend harsh laws aimed at protecting the country's monarchy, after a Bangkok court sentenced a man last month to 20 years in prison for sending text messages deemed offensive to the queen.
The sixty-one year old had sent four text messages last year to a secretary of then-President Abhisit Vejjajiva. Thailand's leste majeste laws are the harshest in the world, with those found guilty of defaming the monarchy sentenced to three to fifteen years behind bars. Laws allow prosecutors to multiply sentences.
Last week, Minister of Information and Communication Technology Anudith Nakornthap said social network users who "share" or "like" content that insults the Thai monarchy are committing a crime. Even repeating the details of an alleged offense is illegal.
Other harsh punishments for lese majeste have been handed down in recent years. For example, Darunee Charnchoensilpakul, an activist, was sentenced in 2009 to 18 years in prison. Tanthawut Taweewarodomkul, webmaster of the banned Nor Por Chor USA, was sentenced to 13 years in prison in March 2011.
Since Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra took office in August, the government has led a major campaign against alleged violations of lese majeste. A “war room” was set up by the government at police headquarters in Bangkok to supervise the surveillance and crackdown on lese majestewebsites, while Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung told the Parliament on August 26 that lese majeste “will not be allowed during this government.”
Report: Rights group says Thai monarchy laws need reform [AP, 4 December 2011]
Report: Thailand: End Harsh Punishments for Lese Majeste Offenses [Human Rights Watch, 2 December 2011]