Oct 18, 6:13 AM EDT

Prominent Thai scholar faces anti-monarchy charge

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Prominent Thai scholar faces anti-monarchy charge

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BANGKOK (AP) -- One of Thailand's most prominent scholars is the target of a criminal complaint for comments he made about a Thai king who died more than 400 years ago.

Sulak Sivaraksa, 82, was cited by two retired senior army officers on charges of lese majeste, or insulting the monarchy. If convicted, he could be imprisoned for up to 15 years.

In Thailand, anyone can file a lese majeste complaint with police, and the charge has frequently been used as a weapon to harass political enemies.

The complaint, filed Thursday, comes during a period of heightened nationalism under a military-installed administration that took power in a coup in May that ousted an elected government. The new regime said that protecting the monarchy was its priority, and allocated a large budget to the military for the task, as well as instructed schools to stress patriotic themes in their curriculums.

The role of the monarchy has come under closer scrutiny in recent years due to concerns about succession when 86-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej reaches the end of his reign. The turmoil Thailand has suffered in the past eight years, with various political factions contending for power, is linked to such concerns.

Police Col. Thiravit Busaban said Saturday that Sulak, a British-educated scholar with expertise in Thai history and Buddhism, was cited by the two former lieutenant generals for remarks he made during an academic seminar last Sunday, including comments about King Naresuan, who died in 1605. He spoke at Bangkok's Thammasat University, which has a tradition of free speech.

While critics say the law does not apply to previous monarchs, the Supreme Court last year sentenced a local politician to two years in prison due to a comment he made in 2005 about King Mongkut, or Rama IV, in the current Chakri dynasty.

King Narasuen is a cult hero to Thai nationalists for fighting traditional enemy Burma, now known as Myanmar.

Police Col. Thiravit declined to give details of Sulak's alleged comments due to the sensitivity of the case.

"The case is confidential and the content cannot be disclosed. However, we will proceed normally according to the legal steps," he told The Associated Press.

Sulak, a self-described royalist known for being outspoken, has been the target of several lese majeste complaints since the 1980s. He was not immediately available for comment.

Sulak has been associated with reformist movements in Thailand since the 1960s, when he was the intellectual mentor to students who took part in a successful uprising against a military dictatorship in 1973. He fled abroad after a right-wing counterrevolution in 1976, the first of several periods he spent in exile.

He fled again for an extended period after being charged with lese majeste in September 1991 for remarks he made in a speech at Thammasat University about Thai democracy.

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