BANGKOK, Oct 21, 2015:

Three Thais including a well-known fortune teller and a senior police officer were charged with royal defamation on Wednesday, as cases under a controversial lese majeste law continue to surge in the junta-ruled kingdom.

Soothsayer Suriyan Sucharitpholwong, 53, his assistant, and police Major Prakrom Warunprapa were charged under the legislation which carries up to 15 years in jail for anyone convicted of insulting the king, queen, heir or regent.

“The NCPO (junta) has found a group of people committed wrongdoing by making false claims of closeness to the highest institution (the monarchy) to gain benefits,” said a statement from the Bangkok military court where the three accused were brought on Wednesday in handcuffs.

“Their wrongdoing has widely damaged the highest institution,” it added, saying the fortune teller had confessed to the crime while the other two men denied all charges.

The police officer, 44, faces additional charges including possessing unlicensed firearms and falsifying documents.

The statement did not elaborate on how the men defamed the monarchy as is common in lese majeste cases in Thailand.

Even in cases where the minutiae of the allegations are known, journalists must routinely self-censor as repeating details of charges can mean breaking the law.

Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 87, is protected by one of the world’s toughest royal defamation laws and prosecutions under it have skyrocketed since last May’s coup.

Those who have fallen foul of the law since the coup have largely fallen into two camps — people who criticise the monarchy and those accused of falsely claiming connections to the royal family.

The latter category includes more than half a dozen relatives of Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn’s former wife, Princess Srirasmi, who have been jailed.

The prince divorced Srirasmi and stripped her of her royal title late last year following allegations some of her relatives, including a senior police officer, had run a corrupt patronage network.

Critics of the law say it is used to pursue political opponents of the country’s military and royalist elite.

Thai junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha has vowed to crack down on lese-majeste.

On Tuesday he told reporters that those who defame the monarchy are “destroying everything for unlimited democracy”.

Prayut led the military takeover last year as then army chief, claiming it was vital to seize power from Yingluck Shinawatra’s elected government to restore order after months of protests against her administration.

Yingluck and her elder brother Thaksin Shinawatra, a former premier deposed in a previous coup who is now living in self-imposed exile in Dubai, are loathed by Thailand’s royalist elite which is propped up by large portions of the military.

Fortune telling is big business in Thailand, with top soothsayers commanding more than US$150 (RM644) per session and appearing daily on television shows and in newspaper columns.

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