Thailand’s Largest Opposition Party Backs Amending Royal Defamation Law

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Bangkok
2021-11-01
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Thailand’s Largest Opposition Party Backs Amending Royal Defamation Law Protesters flash three-finger salutes during a demonstration against Article 112, Thailand’s royal defamation law, in Bangkok, Oct. 31, 2021.
[AFP]

Thailand’s largest opposition party is calling for amending a strict anti-royal defamation law, making it the kingdom’s first mainstream political party to do so, after months of popular anti-government demonstrations voicing that demand and dozens of related arrests.

Meanwhile, activists submitted a petition on Monday to the Prime Minister’s Office, with 28,000 signatures, urging the law’s abolition and an end to the prosecution of pro-democracy demonstrators.

Chaikasem Nitisiri, chief of the political strategy committee at the Pheu Thai Party, said it was ready to take the demands of the young protesters to Parliament.

“The trouble with excessive enforcement of laws to curb different political thoughts – be they Section 112 (Lese-Majeste), Section 116 (sedition), the Computer Crimes Act or emergency decree – all of these have made people wonder whether the rule of law was being respected and whether officials were abusing their power and contradicting the virtue of laws and human rights,” Chaikasem said in a statement issued late Sunday.

“Pheu Thai Party, as the biggest party, is ready to bring the demand to the parliament in order to check the conduct of judicial officials, from the police to the attorney general, courts and the corrections department, to ensure that they live up to the spirit of the laws, and to investigate the government’s orders, as well as to rectify laws and regulations deemed unfair.”

Chaikasem did not say when the party would introduce the youths’ demand for debate in the Thai legislature. Before Pheu Thai’s statement, only the now-banned Move Forward Party had made a similar proposal – to amend the royal defamation law – which the parliament in June rejected as unconstitutional, according to Thai PBS World.

Pheu Thai is the largest party in parliament’s lower house, with 134 of 500 seats. Until now, it had taken a non-committal position on issues to do with the monarchy, including Lese-Majeste, the royal defamation law framed under Section 112 of Thailand’s Criminal Code.

Now, the party has changed tack possibly because of the upcoming general elections, said Joshua Kurlantzick, senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“I think it may be to attract more [of the] younger voters, who had before moved to Future Forward,” Kurlantzick told BenarNews, referring to the disbanded party that is now called Move Forward.

“There are probably some in Pheu Thai who believe also this is the right step at this point. But while I think it’s a landmark in Thai politics, I don’t think any of these are likely to go ahead, given the power of the military and monarchy.”

‘Will fight hard mentally and physically’

Pheu Thai’s statement came after some 3,000 protesters took to the streets of Bangkok on Sunday demanding the abolition of Lese-Majeste, which carries a maximum prison term of 15 years for speech or actions perceived as insults or sleights against any member of the monarchy.

“[A]mend the Criminal Code in order to abolish its Section 112,” Panusaya Sithijirawattankul, a Thammasat University student who is also a key protest leader, said during the demonstration.

“We will fight hard mentally and physically to gather signatures of the people to propose an amendment and to bail out political fighters for true democracy.” 

In Bangkok on Monday, Panusaya and Amnesty International submitted the petition to the office of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha.

Since last November, when the former army chief and ex-junta leader vowed to enforce “all pertaining laws,” including Lese-Mejeste, against protesters, at least 154 people have been charged with royal defamation, according to Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, an NGO.

Since mid-2020, young protesters have held numerous rallies calling for Prayuth’s resignation, a rewriting of the constitution and reform of the monarchy. According to Amnesty International, at least 1,634 people – 257 of whom under 18 – were prosecuted for their participation in pro-democracy rallies.

Prayuth, who took power after leading a 2014 military coup to overthrow the civilian government of Yingluck Shinawatra, was elected prime minister by parliament following the 2019 general election despite allegations it was rigged to keep the junta in power.

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