March 25, 2009 / 9:28 AM / 10 years ago

Warrant issued for Thai academic who fled to London

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A Thai court has issued an arrest warrant for a leading leftist commentator who fled Thailand in February after being charged with insulting the king, police said on Wednesday.

Giles Ungpakorn, who was a political analyst at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, was charged with lese-majeste in January for a 2007 book that criticised a military coup the previous year.

Giles denied the charge and fled to London, claiming he would not receive a fair trial because the army and the Democrat Party-led government were using Thailand’s draconian lese-majeste laws to crush dissent and freedom of expression.

“The court showed that Giles ran away from fighting the case,” said police Major-General Phongsak Jiam-orn, one of the investigators, explaining why the warrant was issued.

Lese-majeste, or insulting the monarchy, is a very serious offence in Thailand, where many people regard 81-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej as semi-divine.

A group of rights activists and academics released a petition this month asking the Thai government to drop all current lese-majeste charges and reform the law. They said it was being abused for political gain.

Last month the king pardoned Harry Nicolaides, an Australian author jailed for three years after being found guilty of insulting the crown prince in a little-read novel.

The Economist magazine has failed to appear in Thailand on several occasions since December because of articles about the king and the lese-majeste law.

Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Writing by Kittipong Soonprasert; Editing by Alan Raybould and Dean Yates

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