Hundreds Protest Detention of Thai Pro-Democracy Activists on Royal Defamation Allegations

Nontarat Phaicharoen and Kunnawut Boonreak
Bangkok
2021-02-10
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Hundreds Protest Detention of Thai Pro-Democracy Activists on Royal Defamation Allegations Thai pro-democracy demonstrators bang pots and pans to demand the release of four activist leaders jailed for allegedly insulting the monarchy, during a protest in Bangkok, Feb. 10, 2021.
Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews

Borrowing from protests in Myanmar against the military coup, hundreds of Thai pro-democracy demonstrators banged pots and pans in Bangkok on Wednesday to demand the release four of activists who were jailed a day earlier on charges of violating the country’s strict royal defamation law.

The activists who have led previous protests – Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, Arnon Nampa, Somyot Pruksakasemsuk and Patiwat Saraiyam – were charged under the criminal code’s Article 112, Thailand’s royal defamation law known as Lese-Majeste.

There will be a “gathering of the poor to hit pans against the dictatorship” on Wednesday, members of the People’s Movement announced on Facebook after the activists were jailed. The gathering was the first anti-government protest in 2021.

“Courts and the government are still using Article 112 to get rid of anyone with different political views,” Panupong “Mike” Jadnok, one of the leaders of the People’s Movement group, told BenarNews.

“Today we are here asking them to release our friends.”

A conviction for violating Lese-Majeste carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.

Thai Lawyers for Human Rights estimated that at least 58 people have been charged with violating Lese-Majeste since the pro-democracy protests began last July. Activists have been demanding that Prayuth step down, that the constitution be rewritten, and the monarchy be reformed.

Orawan, a 55-year-old protester, said Lese-Majeste violates human rights.

“It should be deleted. I feel that the parliament is not useful because they do not hear the people,” Orawan told BenarNews.

Protestors – joined by Myanmar nationals living in Thailand – had started gathering around 4 p.m. at a Bangkok intersection. About two hours later, police on loudspeakers warned the demonstrators to leave.

By 7:30 p.m., hundreds of protesters moved to Bangkok’s Pathumwan police station, and soon after, riot police unleashed tear gas on them. The protest broke up shortly after 9 p.m.

The online legal advocacy group iLaw reported that at least eight people were arrested, including two juveniles, during the protest.

The two are scheduled to appear in juvenile court on Thursday, while the rest were released as the police had not determined what charges, if any, would be filed against them.

‘Myanmar effect’

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha’s administration is concerned that events in neighboring Myanmar could influence local pro-democracy protests that began last year, said Pittikorn Panyamanee, a human rights analyst at Chiang Mai University.

Prayuth on Tuesday had told reporters he did not want “this kind of assembly.”

“For some people who join and incite something like this, I absolutely do not want it to happen.”

Pittikorn said the government realizes the protests could snowball.

“This detention may reflect the Myanmar effect because we have seen how in neighboring countries the governments can fear young people joining together [as that can] lead to big problems for the government,” he told BenarNews.

“The state must listen to the people’s voice although it seems difficult.”

Meanwhile, Pita Limjaroenrat, a lawmaker and a leader of the opposition Move Forward Party, said his group was preparing to introduce a bill to protect freedom of expression.

The bill would focus on Article 112, noting it has been used “as a tool for prosecuting, harassing, silencing others,” he said.

International concerns

On Monday, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan spoke out about the arrests of protesters in Thailand.

He “expressed concern over both recent arrests of Thai protesters and several lengthy Lese-Majeste sentences in recent weeks,” in a phone call with his Thai counterpart, Natthaphon Narkphanit, said a statement by a U.S. National Security Council spokesperson.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and a United Nations (U.N.) agency expressed similar concerns.

“The authorities should immediately end their heavy-handed enforcement of the Lese-Majeste law and engage in a dialogue with United Nations experts and others about amending the law to bring it into compliance with Thailand’s international human rights law obligations,” Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director, said in a news release on Wednesday.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement calling for Thailand to reconsider the 43½-year prison sentence of Anchan Preelert, a 63-year-old former Revenue Department official who pleaded guilty to sharing audio clips on social media that were deemed a violation of Lese-Majeste.

“U.N. human rights experts today expressed grave concerns over Thailand’s increasingly severe use of lèse-majesté laws to curtail criticism of the monarchy, and said they were alarmed that a woman had been sentenced to over 43 years in prison for insulting the royal family,” said a news release posted Monday on the commissioner’s website.

“We urge the appeal court to reconsider the case of Anchan Preelert in line with international human rights standards and set aside the harsh sentence.”

The human rights experts also called for a repeal the Lese-Majeste laws. They urged Thailand to drop charges against people currently facing criminal prosecution and release those who have been imprisoned under the defamation laws.

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