BANGKOK (Reuters) - A Thai court has ordered a leading government foe to remove allegations on social media that the state’s coronavirus vaccine policy is opaque and unfairly favours a company owned by the king, the government said on Sunday.
However, opposition politician Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s Progressive Movement denied the videos were illegal and urged YouTube and Facebook to preserve freedom of expression.
The clips could still be viewed late on Sunday.
Thailand’s Digital Ministry said the Criminal Court ruled that Thanathorn’s posts on social media and his movement’s website could breach national security.
The videos accuse Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s government of lack of transparency in allowing Siam Bioscience, which is owned by King Maha Vajiralongkorn, to supply most doses despite a lack of vaccine experience.
Critics say former junta leader Prayuth rigged a vote in a 2019 election to retain power - a charge he denies - and have broken a national taboo by increasingly criticising the monarchy.
Siam Bioscience received a 600 million baht ($20 million) subsidy to develop capacity to manufacture AstraZeneca vaccines domestically and across Southeast Asia.
The court did not comment when contacted by Reuters.
Thanathorn’s movement said it had not received the ruling. “We continue to stress that the content is not false or a threat to national security,” tweeted Pannika Wanich, a prominent Progressive Movement member.
“We hope YouTube and Facebook will stand by the rights and freedom of expression.”
Thanathorn was banned from politics for 10 years after a court dissolved his previous Future Forward Party last year over loans deemed illegal. He denied the charges.
Now the government has lodged a case against him over the video, accusing him of insulting royalty, a charge punishable by up to 15 years’ prison.
The government says Siam Bioscience manufacturing is on track to deliver a first batch of 61 million doses to the public by June.
There was no immediate comment from Thanathorn or Siam Bioscience on the court ruling. The palace traditionally does not comment on political disputes.
Relatively unscathed by COVID-19, Thailand on Sunday reported 829 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total to 18,782 cases and 77 fatalities since the outbreak started last January.
(This story corrects election date to 2019 from last year in sixth paragraph)
Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Frances Kerry
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.