THAILAND: Thaksin, Plodprasop file lese majeste suits against Sondhi

More libel and lese majeste suits erupt against publisher Sondhi, newspaper

Bangkok Post
Wednesday, April 5, 2006

More libel and lese majeste suits resulting from the anti-Thaksin protests were directed at publisher Sondhi Limthongkul yesterday, notably one from Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra himself. The prime minister felt the need to defend his name after Mr Sondhi allegedly slandered him during the anti-Thaksin rallies organised by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), said his lawyer Chatri Tharipapassaro.

Mr Sondhi, a core leader of PAD, was also targeted for a lese majeste charge filed by Plodprasop Suraswadi, assistant to the caretaker natural resources minister.

Mr Sondhi, in the meantime, fought back against the government by suing caretaker Prime Minister's Office Minister Newin Chidchob, who accused him in a television interview of committing lese majeste in his speech.

Mr Chatri forwarded Mr Thaksin's defamation suit against Mr Sondhi to the Criminal Court.

The charge was based on Mr Sondhi's verbal attacks on Mr Thaksin during the March 1-24 PAD rallies at Sanam Luang.

The publisher allegedly made explicit references to Mr Thaksin in a derogatory manner on many occasions, including a statement on March 16, saying the country had a madman for a prime minister.

Mr Sondhi also accused the prime minister on March 22 of being obsessed with black magic and being behind the recent attack on the Brahman statue at the Erawan Shrine, the suit read.

The prime minister sought a court order for Mr Sondhi to publish the verdict in seven newspapers for a week. The court accepted the suit for consideration and set June 5 for the initial examination.

Mr Plodprasop led some Natural Resources and Environment Ministry officials to file lese majeste charges against Mr Sondhi with the Royal Thai Police via its deputy secretary Pol Col Wiwatchai Thanadnangsue.

Mr Plodprasop presented as evidence a tape cassette and a compact disc recording the alleged lese majeste comments.

Mr Sondhi's lawyer Suwat Apaipak lodged a libel suit with the Southern Bangkok Criminal Court against Mr Newin for his March 31 interview with Ruang Lao Chao Nee television programme.

In the interview, Mr Newin allegedly defamed Mr Sondhi by insisting he really made the lese majeste remark as reported by Kom Chad Luek on March 24.

The court accepted the lawsuit for consideration and scheduled June 19 for the first examination.

Farmers, newspaper each suing the other

A dispute between the Thai-language Kom Chad Luek and a group of pro-Thaksin farmers has escalated with both filing criminal charges against the other following a seven-hour siege of the newspaper's offices last week. The Nation Group, publisher of the daily, yesterday filed charges against Khamta Kaenboonchan and Attharit Singh-alor, leaders of the Caravan of the Poor, for threatening and detaining company staff during the siege.

Mr Khamta and Mr Attharit led several hundred angry protesters on Friday to the Nation Group building on Bang Na-Trat road, demanding the publisher clarify a reported interview with media activist Sondhi Limthongkul that allegedly offended His Majesty the King.

The daily admitted the mistake and agreed to suspend publication for five days -- March 31, April 1, 2, 8 and 9  -- as demanded by the protesters.

However, in its April 3 edition, the paper published an article condemning the Caravan of the Poor for using violence and insulting its staff.

Angered by the article, the Caravan of the Poor yesterday gathered at Bang-na police station, filing defamation charges against the newspaper's publisher.

"We have never insulted them. We have the right to protest against anyone who offends the monarchy. It is shameful for the paper to make such groundless accusations against the farmers' group," said Mr Khamta.

About 100 police officers yesterday secured the building at the request of Nation Group editor Thepchai Yong who feared disgruntled protesters would return.

Mr Thepchai on Monday wrote to caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, urging him to protect media freedom.

The newspaper alleged the protesters were backed by key figures in the ruling Thai Rak Thai party.

Meanwhile, hundreds of journalists will today gather at the Thai Journalists Association to protest media harassment, particularly on newspapers leading the campaign against Mr Thaksin.