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Thailand investigates BBC over profile of new king

BBC may have violated Thailand's strict laws prohibiting insulting the king, the miltary junta has said. Authorities have launched an investigation against the international broadcaster's Thai language bureau.

Days after King Maha Vajiralongkorn was crowned, BBC's Thai language service published a profile of his personal life as crown prince, drawing criticism from the media and public.

The biography included details about the king's three divorces, questions about his desire to rule due to "persistent rumors of womanizing, gambling and illegal businesses," and the questionable deaths of several people who fell afoul of the then crown prince. 

Thai media is prohibited from talking about the king's personal life. 

Offending or insulting the royal family's dignity, known by the French term lese-majeste, is a serious crime in Thailand with a prison term of up to 15 years.

"Whatever is illegal will be processed accordingly, no exceptions," Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters on Wednesday.

In the days since the article was published, the Thai army and police have visited the BBC office, which the broadcaster has since shut down. It continues to publish and broadcast on its website, but the link about the King Rama X has been blocked in Thailand.

The profile is still available outside the country, including its English version. 

"Authorities have to pursue the matter. It is their duty to pursue anything that is against the law," the defense minister of the ruling junta said.

A prominent anti-junta activist, Jatupat Boonpattararaksa, was arrested and charged on Saturday with lese-majesty for sharing the biography online. He was later released on bail. It was the first such lese-majesty arrest since King Rama X was proclaimed.

The military government has cracked down on internet commentary and defended the king since coming to power in 2014. Critics of the lese majesty law argue it is used to stifle political opponents.

King Rama X took the throne after his revered father King Bhumibol Adulyadej died in October after seven decades on the throne.

cw/kms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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