On Friday, September 1, 2023, King of Thailand, Maha Vajiralongkorn reduced the prison term of former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra from eight years to a year following the politician’s return from 15 years of self-imposed exile.
This came a day after Thaksin, 74, submitted a request for pardon.
Deputy Prime Minister, Wissanu Krea-ngam, who is also acting Justice Minister, disclosed on Thursday, August 31, 2023 that he had received a letter from Thaksin requesting a royal pardon, mainly on medical grounds.
The decision by King Maha Vajiralongkorn was published in the Royal Gazette, making it effective immediately. Thailand is a constitutional monarchy and the King has the final word on pardons of convicted criminals.
The decree granting Thaksin royal clemency noted that the action was taken so that “he could use his expertise and experience to develop the country further.”
“Thaksin accepted his crime and showed remorse,” the Royal Gazette disclosed.
It added that Thaksin “was a Prime Minister, has done good for the country and people, and is loyal to the monarchy.”
“He respected the process, admitted his guilt, repented, accepted court verdicts. Right now he is old, has illness that needs care from a medical professional,” it read.
Thaksin, a twice elected Prime Minister, was sent to prison last week immediately after returning to the kingdom for the first time since 2008.
Thaksin was ousted as Prime Minister in a military coup in 2006 and accused of corruption, abuse of power and disrespecting the monarchy. He fled Thailand in 2008 when he faced prison time on charges he described as politically motivated.
He returned to Thailand last week in a dramatic homecoming after spending 15 years abroad. His supporters gave him a hero’s welcome on landing in Bangkok, and his first public act was to prostrate himself in homage before a portrait of the king at the airport.
He was sent to prison shortly after, but was quickly transferred to a state hospital because of what was described as his frail health. The prison said Thaksin had high blood pressure and low oxygen, could not sleep well and felt tightness in his chest.
Hours after Thaksin’s return, Srettha Thavisin of the Pheu Thai party won enough votes in Parliament to become Prime Minister, ending more than three months of uncertainty after May’s general election. Pheu Thai is the latest in a string of parties affiliated with Thaksin.
It is widely believed that Thaksin returned out of hope that a new government friendly to him would reduce his sentence, and that he may have made a deal with authorities.
His Majesty’s Grace Showed Thaksin Mercy
While some supporters welcomed the reduction in Thaksin eight-year prison sentence, an activist group, named Free Youth stated on social media that “justice must be served to all equally,” saying that other political prisoners who have been charged with lese majeste remain in jail.
According to another group called Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, at least 252 people, including some children, have been charged with lese majeste since July 2020, when protests broke out calling for monarchy reform.
Nonetheless, Thaksin’s lawyer, Winyat Chatmontri, opined, “It is his majesty’s grace that showed Thaksin mercy.”
“Thais should accept and not criticise this outcome because it could be considered a violation of royal power,” he added.
Thailand’s strict royal insult law shields the monarchy from criticism, carrying a prison sentence of up to 15 years.