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July 8, 2009 > Foreign journalists accused of insulting Thai king

Foreign journalists accused of insulting Thai king

By Ambika Ahuja

BANGKOK (AP), Jul 03 _ Police said Friday they will investigate a criminal complaint against the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand for allegedly insulting the country's monarchy.

The crime known as ``lese majeste'' carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison. The statute reflects the deep devotion almost all Thais hold for the monarchy, and especially 81-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The world's longest-serving monarch is the only king most Thais have ever known.

Laksana Kornsilpa, a 57-year-old translator, filed the written complaint Tuesday against the 13-member club board, said police Col. Somprasong Yentuam.

The board includes journalists from the British Broadcasting Corporation, Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal and the Inter Press Service.

Laksana said the board's decision to produce and sell DVDs that contain August 2007 remarks by Jakrapob Penkair, a political ally of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was an act insulting to the monarchy, according to Somprasong.

In recent years, a number of lese majeste cases have been filed, often by politicians against their opponents. Critics say such actions demean rather than protect the monarchy.

``We will look into the case. We have to take every lese majeste complaint very seriously because it may affect national security,'' Somprasong said.

Police are bound to investigate all lese majeste complaints but may decide not to proceed with charges.

Club President Marwaan Macan-Markar of the Inter Press Service said the club will cooperate with police.

``We understand that the police have an obligation to conduct an inquiry,'' Macan-Markar said in a statement.

Thaksin was ousted in a September 2006 military coup for alleged corruption and abuse of power. Critics also accused Thaksin and his allies of trying to usurp royal power and being disrespectful to the king.

Last year, a police complaint was filed against Jakrapob based on the same remarks he made at the FCCT.

The latest complaint has drawn criticism from activists, journalists and rights groups, saying it underscores the threat that the law poses to press freedom in Thailand.

``All journalists ... should be troubled by what is ultimately an attempt to harass the entire media community in Thailand,'' said Roby Alampay, executive director of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance.

The Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights said it was deeply concerned about ``the abusive use of the law ... in particular the filing of complaints by any Thai citizen rather than by the person targeted.''

The Board of Directors of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan said in a statement it was ``dismayed'' by the development.

Recent lese majeste complaints or charges have been filed against a fledgling Australian novelist, a BBC correspondent, a prominent Buddhist intellectual and several political activists.

The Australian novelist received a royal pardon in February while serving his prison term.

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