Thai for­tune teller dies in cus­tody in royal in­sult probe

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

BANGKOK: A Thai for­tune teller ar­rested as part of a high-pro­file royal in­sult in­ves­ti­ga­tion has died, the gov­ern­ment said yes­ter­day, the sec­ond sus­pect in as many weeks to die in po­lice cus­tody.

Suriyan Suchar­it­pol­wong, a well­known sooth­sayer and former aide to Crown Prince Maha Va­ji­ra­longkorn, died of nat­u­ral causes on Satur­day, the Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions said in a state­ment.

Suriyan, 53, was found un­con­scious in his cell and taken to a hospi­tal where at­tempts to re­vive him proved un­suc­cess­ful, the depart­ment said. Suriyan, who was known in Thai by the nick­name “Mor Yong”, was charged with lese ma­jeste, which in Thai­land is one of the strictest such laws in the world, along with two other peo­ple in­volved in an al­leged con­spir­acy to ex­ploit the name of Crown Prince Va­ji­ra­longkorn.

Thai­land’s royal in­sult laws carry up to 15 years in pri­son for each count for any­one con­victed of in­sult­ing the king, queen, heir or re­gent.

Un­til his ar­rest, Suriyan had been seen fre­quently with top of­fi­cials. He was also the chief or­gan­iser of a cy­cling event in Au­gust which the prince took part in, in hon­our of his mother, Queen Sirikit.

An­other sus­pect, Prakrom Warun­prapa, a prom­i­nent po­lice­man, died in cus­tody last month. Po­lice say he hanged him­self us­ing his shirt but re­fused to do an au­topsy.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion is part of a crack­down on per­ceived royal in­sults launched by the junta, which took power in a coup last year. Ul­tra roy­al­ist Prime Min­is­ter Prayuth Chan-ocha has vowed to stamp out crit­ics of the monar­chy and has re­peat­edly called for stronger pros­e­cu­tion of lese ma­jeste since tak­ing power but some say the crack­down is aimed at en­sur­ing an or­derly suc­ces­sion.

King Bhu­mi­bol, 87, is con­va­lesc­ing at a Bangkok hospi­tal af­ter be­ing treated by doc­tor’s for ‘wa­ter on the brain’. His frail health has added to the po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty sur­round­ing Thai­land since the 2014 coup. “This is a very sen­si­tive time for Thai­land and part of the rea­son that the mil­i­tary is in power is to en­sure a smooth royal suc­ces­sion when the time comes,” said a Bangkok-based po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst who de­clined to be named be­cause of the sen­si­tive na­ture of the is­sue. Ner­vous­ness over the suc­ces­sion has formed the back­drop to a decade of po­lit­i­cal cri­sis in the coun­try. The lese ma­jeste law pre­vents any open dis­cus­sion of the suc­ces­sion.

Me­dia in Thai­land rou­tinely ex­er­cise self-cen­sor­ship in cov­er­age of the royal fam­ily to avoid fall­ing foul of the law. A mil­i­tary court in Bangkok on Mon­day is­sued an ar­rest war­rant for Colonel Khachachart Boondee, com­man­der of the army’s 1st Ar­tillery Reg­i­ment, over charges of lese ma­jeste and abus­ing his author­ity for per­sonal gain over the or­ga­ni­za­tion of “a forth­com­ing event”. It did not give fur­ther de­tails. —Reuters

BANGKOK: A file photo shows Thai for­tune teller Suriyan Suchar­it­phol­wong (C), 54, also known as Mor Yong, be­ing es­corted by com­mando po­lice dur­ing his ar­rival at a mil­i­tary court in Bangkok. —AFP

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