BBC rejects Thai royal slur complaint

BANGKOK, June 2 (Reuters) - The BBC has rejected police allegations in Thailand that one of its correspondents insulted revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a charge that can result in up to 15 years in jail.

The lese majeste complaint, filed by a police lieutenant-colonel, alleges that the British broadcaster’s South East Asia correspondent Jonathan Head “intentionally criticized the monarchy several times”.

It also says that Head, a British journalist with more than 12 years experience in southeast Asia, was part of an anti-monarchy “conspiracy” involving Thaksin Shinawatra, the telecoms billionaire who was ousted as Prime Minister in a 2006 coup.

Prior to the coup, Thaksin was regularly accused of having insufficient respect for the King, who is regarded as semi-divine by many of Thailand’s 65 million people.

“The allegations made against Jonathan Head are completely unfounded,” BBC Asia Bureau Editor Paul Danahar said in a statement.

“The BBC understands that the police in Thailand are required to investigate all complaints of lese majeste, and will co-operate with that investigation,” he said.

“But it is very upsetting that his work should be incorrectly presented in this way and it has caused great distress to both him and his family.”

The May 30 complaint, filed by Police Lieutenant-Colonel Watanasak Mungkijakandee, says that Head’s reporting from 2006 to 2008 “damaged and insulted the reputation of the monarchy”.

One of his specific complaints relates to the placing of a picture of Thaksin above a picture of the King on the BBC website, in contravention of a Thai convention that images of the monarch must always be at the top.

Lese majeste complaints in Thailand can be filed by anybody, leading to their frequent abuse by feuding politicians.

The King himself made it clear in 2005 that he should not be above criticism. (Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Bill Tarrant)