Thai academic charged with insulting king

Police have charged a prominent Thai political commentator with insulting Thailand's revered king in a 2007 book — a day after an Australian writer was jailed for three years for a similar offence.

Ji Ungpakorn, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University — one of the country's leading universities — denied the charges and accused the government of increasingly using Thailand's harsh lese majeste laws to silence criticism.

"This is a way of shutting up people and silencing opponents, especially opponents to the military dictatorship in 2006," said Ji, who also writes under the name Giles Ji Ungpakorn.

He said he was being targeted for political reasons because his 2007 book, "A Coup for the Rich," criticized the military for launching a coup that ousted then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Police filed charges today, Ji said, but must still submit the case to the public prosecutor, who decides whether to bring the case to trial.

Yesterday, Australian author Harry Nicolaides was sentenced to three years in prison for defaming the king and crown prince in a 2005 novel. The court said a passage about the book's fictional prince caused "dishonor" to the royals and suggested an "abuse of royal power."

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy but has severe lese majeste laws, mandating a jail term of three to 15 years for "whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the Regent."

Until recently, prosecutions under the law were uncommon in a country where the 81-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej is almost universally revered.

But questions about the monarchy have assumed a higher profile lately amid growing consideration about the eventual succession of Bhumibol, the world's longest-serving monarch and the only king most Thais have ever known.

A petition signed by 128 academics from around the world called Tuesday for the charges against Ji to be dropped, saying that prosecution of the academic "represents the most fundamental attack on freedom of speech.