Thailand Asks New Zealand To Extradite Lese Majeste Suspect: Concern High Over Its Use Against Political Rivals

By @diplomatist10 on
IN PHOTO: Student Natchacha Kongudom flashes a three-finger salute inspired by the movie "The Hunger Games" in front of a billboard of the film outside the Siam Paragon cinema in Bangkok November 20, 2014. Three Thai university students were taken into police custody on Thursday for handing out free tickets to the latest film in the Hunger Games series, from which Thai protesters have borrowed a gesture of resistance to a totalitarian government. The salute has become emblematic with Thai pro-democracy protesters, and the Thai government has warned the public against using it. Reuters/Chaiwat Subprasom

Thailand has hardened its stand on New Zealand with regard to the handing over of a Thai citizen living there and charged with royal defamation known as Les Majeste.  It has now formally asked New Zealand to extradite the wanted person under the pact of 2008.

Ekapop Luara fled to New Zealand shortly after Thailand's military generals seized power in May 2014. He was one of the strident public critics of the military regime and failed to report for the “attitude adjustment” after the coup. Luara is now facing charges framed under the lese majeste law, which is deemed as one of the harshest in the world. Even as the Thai junta is determined to get him back, New Zealand is tight-lipped over the issue, reports AFP

Extradition Plea

In a statement, Thailand's Office of the Attorney General announced that it sent a formal extradition request to New Zealand. “Police have confirmed he is living in New Zealand,” the statement said. Under Section 112 of Thailand's criminal code, any person convicted of insulting the King, Queen, heir or the regent will face 15 years in prison for offences on count.

The arrest warrant against the 24-year old Laura is based on a video clipping that showed him attacking the monarchy in a speech on Nov. 27, 2013, at a red-shirt rally in Rajamangala Stadium, Hua Mark, Bangkok. Reports say that after military's take over in Thailand, there has been a sporadic rise in lese majeste prosecutions and the law is being misused for harassing rivals and in silencing critics of the junta regime, led by former army chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha.

Some of the recent les majeste cases include a 58-year-old man being sentenced to 25 years in prison for the content in some Facebook posts. An aged mentally ill woman was also jailed in May for allegedly “insulting” a portrait of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Critics say that the draconian law has become a political tool to target enemies of the royal elite and the military. But Gen. Prayut is unmoved and he has vowed to go after Thais living abroad and are carrying charges of lese majeste offences. But many western nations are unwilling to return such suspects as many of them do not have similar defamation laws and regard it as an issue of free speech.

AG Determined

In Luara’s case, the Attorney General seems determined to make him face the trial after Thai police learned that the fugitive was in New Zealand. Wanchai Roujanawong, spokesperson for the AG said the request is workable under the 2008 extradition agreement. In 2014, Ekaphob posted a photograph on his Facebook page along with his girlfriend holding a New Zealand passport, claiming that he got New Zealand citizenship. Interestingly, the extradition request to New Zealand has come, a day after the junta banned the Foreign journalists' association in Bangkok from holding a debate on the controversial lese majeste law. The association was forced to cancel the meeting after police informed them that military would enforce blockade at the club’s premises if they went ahead with the event.

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